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Gaya Travel P U B L I S H E R S Gaya Peninsular Global Ventures | Kumpulan Media Chandi | Sirron Galeria Sdn Bhd | Suri Media Sdn Bhd A D V I S O R S Dato’ Sri Azmi Ismail | Yusoff Awang | Kerk Chan C H I E F E X E C U T I V E O F F I C E R Nuar @ Md Nor Md Diah M A N A G I N G D I R E C T O R S G S B Irnee Norris Ishak P R O G R A M M E S , O P E R A T I O N S & R E L A T I O N S D I R E C T O R Shamsul Bahrin Zainuzzaman G E N E R A L M A N A G E R K T S B Kerk Chan F I N A N C E D I R E C T O R K T S B Pon Lim F I N A N C E & A C C O U N T I N G K T S B Joanna Teo | Julia Han P R O D U C T I O N M A N A G E R Catherine Kh’ Ng D I S T R I B U T I O N M A N A G E R An An Sung A D M I N , B U S I N E S S D E V E L O P M E N T & M A R K E T I N G M A N A G E R Ahmad Furqaan Hod T R A F F I C M A N A G E R S Anthony De Costa | An An Sung G O V E R N M E N T R E L A T I O N S M A N A G E R S Suhaila Ahmad | Sharon Wong A D V E R T I S I N G M A N A G E R S Ameerah Abdullah | Datin Sharifah Salmah P R & E V E N T A S S O C I A T E Aven Fauzi Rahim

E D I T O R - I N - C H I E F Juhan Kamaruddin @ Jeremy Khalil C R E A T I V E E D I T O R Irina Norris Ishak C O N T R I B U T I N G E D I T O R Irnee Norris Ishak O N L I N E E D I T O R Ed Junaidi Abu Bakar D I G I T A L W R I T E R Mohd Shahril Fawzy D I G I T A L A S I S S T A N T Halizsha Halim 010

W R I T E R Shahida Sakeri D E S I G N E R Imaya I L L U S T R A T O R Emila Yusof C O N T R I B U T O R S Adela Roslan | Tourism Malaysia P H O T O G R A P H E R S Photography Unit, Gaya Travel | Corporate Communications Unit, Ministr y of Tourism & Culture Malaysia | Photography Unit, Tourism Malaysia

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Contents

Issue 12.2

Cover Illustration by Emila Yusof

w w w. iss uu. co m /gayatrave l

Departments

Destinations

14. 16.

Editorial Jottings Bulletin

54. 60.

Gaya Special Feature

68. 74. 78. 82. 88. 94. 104. 110. 114.

109.

Dusit Thani Bangkok

G a y a T r a v e ll e r 23.

How to Shop Like a Pro at Ho Chi Minh’s Markets

Gaya Cafe Culture 30. 012

www.emilayusof.com

Family-Friendly Dining at Owlery

Gaya Dine 34.

Savouring Jumbo Flavours of Thailand at myELEPHANT

Gaya Shop 38.

Shopping Guide in ASEAN

Kuantan & Pekan, Pahang A Wonderfully Memorable Trip to Wonderful Indonesia Chiba Calls! Experience Puerto Princesa with AirAsia I Feel Krabi Lullabied by Luang Prabang Joyful Jakarta Jaunt Congenial Okayama Discovering the Hokuriku Region using Shinkansen Checking Up on Chiba – Part II of II 10 Ways to Enjoy London and Beyond with Girlfriends

Hotels & Resorts 124. 126.

Golden Sands Resort by Shangri-La: An Ideal Family Destination Magnique Stay at Sofitel Luang Prabang

Gaya Out & About

Travel Anecdotes

42.

132.

UNESCO Heritage Towns/Cities in ASEAN Region

Gaya Interview 46. 49.

Dato’ Zaharah Salamat, Chief Executive Officer, Marina Putrajaya Sdn. Bhd. Mr. P.M. Withana, Chairman of Sri Lanka Tourism Promotion Bureau & Chairman of Sri Lankan Tourism Development Authority

Hannah On Earth


Editorial Jottings

This issue was originally intended to focus on destinations within the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) region. However, as time went by, we realised that to only focus on that region would be too limiting in terms of content and opportunity.

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As such, besides talking about the tourism gems around Kuantan in Pahang (page 54), wonderful Indonesia (page 60), magnetic Palawan (page 74), laidback Krabi (page 78), charming Luang Prabang (page 82), and pulsating Jakarta (page 89), we also present fun-filled Chiba (pages 68 and 110), sunny Okayama (page 94), mesmerising Hokuriku explored using the Japan Railway shinkansen (page 104), and lady traveller-friendly London, whereby our writer Sahida Sakeri flew there on Malaysia Airlines’ iconic Airbus A380 (page 114). For those seeking ideas on where to stay, Sofitel Luang Prabang (page 126) and Golden Sands Resort Penang by Shangri-La (page 124) are not just accommodations but are also destinations in their own right. Not only these properties are interestingly designed, they are supported

by top notch service and world class facilities that enrich guests’ experience. Hope this issue’s contents will entice readers on where to go in the near future, despite all the talk about the global economic slowdown. Though many are cutting down on expenses or investments, we still believe that travelling, for whatever reason, is still relevant in the way that it is educational and stops us from being stagnant - during each trip, no matter how near or far, you are bound to experience something new, pleasant or otherwise. And that experience is what will make you wiser, more openminded and hopefully a better person. See you in the next issue. Safe travels to wherever you are heading!

JUHAN KAMARUDDIN@JEREMY KHALIL Email your comments to jeremy@gayatravel.com.my

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Bulletin

Thailand’s first Shariah-Compliant Muslim-friendly hotel opens in Bangkok The Al Meroz Hotel – Thailand’s first Shariah-compliant and halal-certified property – held its launching ceremony that was presided over by Thailand’s Minister of Tourism and Sports Mrs Kobkarn Wattanavrangkul. Japan, Korea and New Zealand are specifically targeting the Islamic market, and Thailand is doing the same. “We are proud to be honouring the wish of His Majesty the King for all Thais of all ethnic and cultural origins to live together in peace and harmony. Roughly 60% of our staff are Thai-Muslims, and we are happy to be a source of jobs and income for so many young people,” said Mr. Rausak. “We are also proud to be an alcohol-free hotel. It is a myth to assume that all hotels must have bars and nightclubs. We receive guests from all parts of the world, including Europe, who want to try a different experience,” he added. Mr. Rausak said the Al Meroz also attracts leisure and business travellers, including meetings, incentives and convention (MICE) delegates from the Islamic world. It also located close to the Airport Rail Link (ARL) Ramkhamhaeng station.

Also joining the event were Thai foreign minister and ASEAN Secretary-General Dr. Surin Pitsuwan and former Prime Minister of Thailand Abhisit Vejajiva, including various Thai dignitaries and tourism industry players. The Al Meroz Hotel, which has 242 rooms, is the brainchild of a prominent Thai-Muslim businessman Mr. Rausak Mulsap, President and CEO of the hotel, along with his partners and family members, with investment amounting to over 1 billion baht.

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The property has been operating since November 2015 and last year enjoyed an average occupancy of 60%. For 2017, the hotel target occupancy is 82%. The four-star hotel offers three outlets, one convention centre that can accommodate up to 1,200 persons, six smaller meeting rooms for 30 to 500 participants, Bustan rooftop open-air function space for 200 guests, rooftop swimming pool, prayer room, and gymnasium. “This is a unique hotel in the history of Thai tourism,” says Mr. Rausak. “It will play a major role in helping the Tourism Authority of Thailand achieve its objective of better positioning Thailand as a Muslim-friendly destination.” It will also help fulfil the over-arching mission and vision of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) which is to build One Vision, One Identity, One Community. Due to the integration of the

ASEAN Community, especially the economic and socio-cultural blueprints, intra-regional travel amongst the 10 countries is expected to be a major growth area. Hence, Thailand can expect to see a lot more visitors from the neighbouring countries of Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei. In addition, visitors from other parts of the Islamic world such as Bangladesh, Pakistan, Iran and the Middle East/ Central Asian countries are also expected to grow strongly. Many non-Muslim countries such as

The name Al Meroz means ‘Heritage’ in Arabic. It was given in recognition of representing the heritage of the Muslim pride across the world, reflecting brotherhood through the Halal hotel, strictly following the Muslim teachings with a wide range of facilities to impress every guest who visit the hotel. Bookings can be made through travel agents, the online hotel booking services as well as direct. Browse almerozhotel.com or e-mail to info@almerozhotel.com for special rates, seasonal offers and bookings.


Launch of Malaysia National Sales Campaign 2017 Malaysia’s annual shopping campaign for 2017 kicked off on March 1st with the launch of the National Sales Campaign at Suria KLCC.

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The nationwide campaign is held three times a year and comprises the 1Malaysia Super Sale (1-31 March), 1Malaysia Mega Sale Carnival (15 June-31 August) and the 1Malaysia Year-End Sale (1 November-31 December). Organised by Tourism Malaysia through its shopping promotion arm, Secretariat Shopping Malaysia, the yearly campaign is part of the Government’s on-going efforts to promote the country as a top, world-class shopping destination. The National Sales Campaign was launched by Minister of Tourism and Culture, Dato’ Seri Mohamed Nazri Abdul Aziz. Present at the launch, which also marked the beginning of 1Malaysia Super Sale, were 15 members of the media from Indonesia, Brunei, Thailand, India, China, and Vietnam who participated in the Tourism Malaysia Mega Familiarisation Programme from 28 February until 3 March 2017. In his speech, Dato’ Seri Mohamed Nazri said, “Malaysia’s tourism sector showed signs of recovery with growth in tourist arrivals and receipts in 2016. In 2016, Malaysia welcomed 26,757,392 tourists mainly from Singapore, Thailand, Indonesia, Brunei, China and Saudi Arabia. It was a 4% growth over 2015 arrivals.”

“Meanwhile, tourist receipts for 2016 were RM82.1 billion, an increase of 18.8% compared to RM69.1 billion in 2015. Tourists’ spending on shopping in Malaysia amounted to RM26 billion, an increase of 20.3% compared to RM21.6 billion in 2015. It accounted for the largest share of tourist expenditure, making shopping an important sector of Malaysia’s tourism industry,” he said, adding that the current currency exchange rate has actually made shopping more affordable in Malaysia. Malaysia’s shopping branding is centred on the “Experiential Shopping” concept that promotes Malaysia as a fun and wholesome shopping destination, complemented by entertainment and recreation activities, gastronomic adventures, luxury treatments and visits to popular tourist spots. It is made possible by the support of more than 500 integrated shopping malls and retail outlets in the country whose numbers are increasing every year. New retail and lifestyle hubs coming up this year include KL Gateway Mall in Kuala Lumpur and Genting Premium Outlets in Genting Highlands, which will further stimulate Malaysia’s shopping scene.


Malaysia Airports and Tourism Melaka Set to Welcome More Chinese Tourists Malaysia Airports and Tourism Melaka collaborated in giving a special welcome to the passengers of China Southern Airlines flight CZ349 that flown in from Guangzhou, China, in conjunction with the Chinese New Year celebration.

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Representing Melaka to welcome the passengers were no less than the Right Honourable Chief Minister of Melaka Datuk Seri Utama Ir. Haji Idris Haji Haron and state dignitaries, while Malaysia Airports were represented by the Managing Director Datuk Mohd. Badlisham Ghazali and wife Datin Rogayah Ibrahim, including Malaysia Airports officials. Datuk Seri Utama Ir. Haji Idris stated that China is an important source market for Melaka’s tourism industry. “8.3% of the total tourist arrivals to the state in 2016 was from China. In 2017, Melaka is targetting to receive 7.5 million tourist arrivals, out of which 1.5 million of them would be from China, which the state is heading towards (in receiving such number),” he stated. To further increase Melaka’s appeal as a veritable tourism destination, the state also developed its own mobile app that features all 755 attractions in Melaka for travellers

to explore, alongside the augmented reality game called “Melaka 755 Quest” that travellers can play from 1 January until 30 June 2017 to win prizes. Datuk Badlisham concurred that Malaysia benefits greatly from the increase of tourist arrivals from China, which the country expects to receive up to 8 million annually by 2020. “As custodians of several major gateways into the country, Malaysia Airports continue to enhance its efforts in bringing joyful Malaysian experience to all travellers by showcasing Malaysian cultural performances and local cuisine,” he stated. Throughout 2017, Malaysia Airports also works with other state tourism organisations besides Melaka to create memorable experience for travellers, especially since the organisation also celebrates its 25th year anniversary.


MITA Travel Fair 2017 a success The Malaysian Inbound Tourism Association (MITA) Travel Fair 2017 was held from 24 until 26 February 2017 at the Mines International Exhibition & Convention Centre (MIECC) in Seri Kembangan, Selangor. The Right Honourable Deputy Prime Minister of Malaysia Dato’ Seri Dr. Ahmad Zahid Hamidi officiated the fair.

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This carnival-themed travel fair showcased 650 booths featuring local small, medium and less established tourism players, alongside reputable hospitality, travel and tourism organisations, including Perak Tourism as the MITA Travel Fair 2017 Partner, Tourism Selangor, Tourism Terengganu, Sabah Tourism Board, Tourism Melaka and Pahang Tourism. The number of exhibitors participating in MITA Travel Fair 2017 almost quadrupled compared to when it was first held in 2016. Members of the public obtained value-for-money travel, tour and hospitality packages to Malaysian and selected destinations within the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) region, in conjunction with ASEAN’s 50th anniversary. Local gourmet and crafts were also exhibited and retailed during the fair. Though only at its second year, MITA Travel Fair has expanded its scale by providing a B2B networking component, besides selling domestic and South-east Asian travel and tourism packages. To that end, MITA hosted 100 buyers from South-east Asia, China, the Middle East and Europe for a business networking session with Malaysian inbound players on 24 February 2017. Hosted buyers included Panorama Tours Indonesia, Vietwings from Vietnam, Mekong Discovery from Cambodia, and Gandawun Shwe Bagan Travel from Myanmar. MITA focuses more on inbound tourism rather than outbound, thus helping to boost Malaysia’s position as a tourism destination of choice among domestic and international travellers.


ESCAPE + EXPLORE + EXPERIENCE

TEXT|IMAGES by IRNEE NORRIS & IRINA NORRIS FB | T W | IG | YO U T UB E : @g a yat r a ve lle r # g a yat r a ve lle r

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VIETNAM

How to Shop Like a Pro at Ho Chi Minh’s Markets


Being based in the Klang Valley, the Gaya Traveller team members always like to head to our fellow ASEAN neighbours for a budget-friendly vacation. As such, Indonesia is our natural pick since the Malaysian Ringgit can stretch a little further at the destination.

Surviving Saigon Tips 1. Terrifying traffic Ho Chi Minh City’s traffic is notorious. Thousands of motorcycles swarm the city streets on top of other vehicles, and the traffic does not stop for pedestrians. Generally, motorists will avoid you while you cross the road, but not the case with big vehicles like buses or lorries. So be cautious, and follow how the locals’ do it when crossing the street.

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2. Getting Around Riding on taxis is a great and inexpensive way to get around, but insist that the driver run the meter. There are many cases where taxi drivers tend to rip off customers, unfortunately. To lessen such unpleasant experience, visitors are recommended to take Vinasun taxis. 3. Money Matters There are plenty of money changers in the city, especially around Bin Tanh Market. Some traders do accept Ringgit, so don’t worry about running out of Dong here. 4. Be Alert Pickpockets are not uncommon, so keep your valuables close. Be aware of your surroundings. 5. Dress sensibly The heat in the traditional markets can be overwhelming, so light clothing would be the best way to dress for your shopping excursions.

However, since we are on a mission to complete all other ASEAN destinations (we have yet to visit the Philippines, Brunei, Myanmar and Laos by the way), we thought we would give Indonesia a miss this time. Instead, we picked Vietnam because we love Vietnamese food. We decided to visit Ho Chi Minh City, or Saigon as it is more popularly known. Time allocated: three days and two nights. We only had two things on our mind when we picked Ho Chi Minh City: food and shopping! Shopping in Ho Chi Minh City is truly one of the main highlights of this city. We saw a lot of new shopping malls springing up around town, but it is the markets that attract bargain hunters like us. The markets still play a central role in the daily lives of its people, which is always a good indicator for fair prices.


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Let’s Go to the Markets! Cho Ben Tanh (Ben Thanh Market) Ben Thanh Market in District 1 is the most popularmarkets of all. It is one of Ho Chi Minh City’s most famous landmarks. If you are staying downtown you could perhaps walk to it from your hotel as it is centrally located. Head to the market preferably early morning to pick up some bargains including lacquer ware, bamboo goods, arts and crafts. Also on sale are clothes, textiles, luggage, watches and electronic goods. Edible products are also available. Spices, nuts, snacks, coffee and dried seafood are not to be missed. Take note that some items have strictly fixed price. Address: Le Loi, Ben Thanh, Quan 1 Opening Hours: Daily 6:00 a.m. – 6:00 p.m. Night Market

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When night falls, the streets surrounding Ben Thanh market comes alive. The streets are no longer filled with chaotic traffic, but replaced with myriad of stalls and customers. Besides food, travellers can also find stalls selling apparels, souvenirs, and other items. Fellow Malaysian ladies will be delighted to find that baju kurung and headscarves are sold at a fraction of what they would have paid back home. Some sellers could even speak Malay – they must have plenty of practice these past few years since Malaysian ladies are among the largest cohort of visitors to the city. Address: Neighbouring streets of Ben Thanh Market Opening hours: 6:00 p.m. – 12:00 a.m. Cho Tan Dinh (Tan Dinh Market) If we were to compare Tan Dinh Market to Ben Thanh Market, Tan Dinh Market is smaller and less touristy. It is not overly crowded yet the stalls are jam packed with huge selections. Tan Dinh Market is where the locals shop, thus the prices here are cheaper. You could find fresh produce, household items, and fabrics, among others. Address: Tan Dinh Ward, District 1 Opening Hours: Daily 5:00 a.m. – 11:00 p.m.

Cho Binh Tay (Binh Tay Market) Though it is a wholesale market, retail goods are also available. The crowded Binh Tay Market is the major attraction in Chinatown that offers everything you can think of. Come here if you are looking for reasonably priced fabrics. The market is chaotic, with small aisles selling all manner of goods. Be careful not to get lost in here. Address: 57 Thap Muoi, Ward 2, District 6 Opening Hours: Daily 6:00 a.m. – 7:30 p.m. Russian Market Do not let the name confuse you – no more Russian products can be found anymore here (during the Cold War period when USSR was still in existence, this was the place where Russian goods were sold wholesale). Head here if you are looking for warm clothing like jackets and active wear. We love the selection of the winter wear here because they are of good quality and reasonably priced. These days, this market is more like a modern shopping arcade, with air conditioning so you can shop comfortably, unlike the crowded traditional markets. Address: 328 Vo Van Kiet Street, Co Giang Ward, District 1 Opening Hours: Daily 8:00 a.m. – 8:00 p.m. Saigon Square Shopping Mall This air-conditioned shopping arcade brims with stalls on two levels retailing fashion, accessories and jewellery. The shops and stalls here are seemingly placed haphazardly around the mall. Bargaining is required because prices here are initially inflated. Location: Corner of Nam Ky Khoi and Le Loi in District 1 Opening Hours: Daily 8:00 a.m. – 11:00 p.m.


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Bargain Like A Boss 1. Don’t be shy when bargaining at the markets You can typically push the price down to onethird or one-quarter from what is was initially stated. Be prepared to give the look of a slight shock when hearing the initial price. Haggling is an art, so wearing that kind of surprised look is part of the game. 2. Take Your Time If you see something that catches your eye, shop around first and enquire about prices as it is fairly easy to find different shops selling similar items. 3. Be Smart Just think about what you would be willing to pay for an item and bargain accordingly. Be prepared

to walk away from a deal. This actually gives you more power and in most cases, will get you called back by the seller with an acceptance of your ‘lowest offer price’. 4. Be nice Smile, laugh and generally be nice. At the same time, consider what is fair for the traders too. People always respond to positivity and that makes the shopping experience more pleasant for both parties. 5. Do Not Touch Touching an item would mean you are very interested to buy that particular item. Ask for the price only if you are really interested, the traders could be very pushy and you could end up buying things you do not really want.


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Must Have Food! Halal food is surprisingly quite easy to find in Ho Chi Minh City, especially when staying downtown close to the Ben Tanh Market. There is a street called Nguyen An Ninh where many halal restaurants are located. We stayed in a hotel along that street and it was very convenient for us.

2. Banh Mi What is it? Baguette filled with beef spread, grilled chicken pieces, salami and coriander leaves. Vietnamese baguette, unlike the ones we are used to, is more airy with thinner crust. » We recommend: A mobile stall located in front of Nguyen An Ninh street.

You cannot leave Vietnam without having the following dishes:

3. Spring Rolls What is it? Raw vegetables, prawns, and vermicelli neatly wrapped in rice paper sheets.

1. Pho (Pronounced: fur) What is it? Flat rice noodles in clear broth, topped with beef slices and lots of basil leaves. » We recommend: Halal Com Trua. Address: 182 Ha Bai Trung Street.

4. Vietnamese Coffee What is it? Thick iced coffee that has a hint of cocoa taste to it. » We recommend: Any mobile coffee sellers, there are plenty of them around town.


Gaya Café Culture

Family-Friendly Dining at Owlery TEXT by SHAHIDA SAKERI|IMAGES by AVEN FAUZI RAHIM

Owlery Cafe Dine & Grind could just be your next ideal place to bring your family. Established since May 2016, this family-friendly dining establishment has been attracting a steady stream of young families and large dinner parties due to its generous portion sizes and relatively affordable prices. And that’s just the way Mr. Shah Fariz, one of the co-owners of Owlery Cafe Dine & Grind, likes it.

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Rather than attempting to replicate a hipster-ish dining, the ambience here strives to strengthen bonds and spur conversations by providing comfortable seating with a designated area for children to play. At Owlery Café Dine & Grind, parents can actually enjoy the experience of dining without having to constantly worry about their little ones and entertaining them while waiting for food. The design is simple, with paintings of the eponymous owl adorning the space and concept inspired by one of the co-owners’ fondness towards owl, besides signalling to patrons that the establishment also welcomes those who stay up late. “We revise the menu every three months to suit local taste buds and keep it interesting,” Mr. Shah told me on one fine evening. Boy, he was right: the menu is nothing short of fascinating because Mr. Shah himself is particular about using fresh, local produce for the dishes featured in the menu. It took Gaya Travel team a good five minutes contemplating on what to order since the menu comprises an array of outstanding dishes featuring Asian, Western and Italian cuisines. We finally decided to just settle for their signature dishes, all looking fresh and delicious on the images – when they arrived, the dishes looked similar as to what we expected. As a starter, we had the crispy yet spicy deep fried BBQ Chicken Wings (MYR18) made with great enthusiasm: a serious crisp batter and a drenching of the house-special BBQ caramel glaze. Our dining experience continued with the Asian Lamb Penne (MYR20), which won us over.

The penne is prepared in Italian style, but the spicy sauce is decidedly Asian with heavenly lamb shreds that melt in your mouth while its decadent twist of flavours hitting every note that you could possibly imagine – an appealingly harmonious creation. I’ll definitely come back to Owlery Café Dine & Grind again for this dish because it is simply innovative and delectable. Just when we thought that nothing could top the penne, we were served with the perfectly cooked Aussie Rib Eye Steak (MYR38), which is flavourful on its own that it doesn’t need anything more than salt and coarse black pepper. The meat is cooked to perfection, resulting in springy but firm steak with buttery moistness in the middle. Once the steak is rightly paired with the house-special black pepper sauce, it becomes ‘a trip to heaven’. It is worth noting that the rib eye is best when cooked medium-rare as it gives all that lovely fat an opportunity to render out, making it rich with flavour. The side dishes – a scoop of mashed potato, corn on cob and fresh salad – are excellent, too. On top of that, Owlery Cafe Dine & Grind serves a beverage list that is almost worth a trip all by itself, ranging from zesty mocktails, teas (flavoured and non-flavoured), chocolates, coffees to creamy smoothies. But since our tummies were already full with good food, we went for the sinful-but-not-toosweet Solero Smoothie (MYR14) to share, which is a perfect chill-you-down drink on a scorching hot day! I then learned that Owlery Café Dine & Grind originally started out as a business selling smoothies,


hence its expertise in making the concoctions. But for a stronger kick, I suggest that diners try one of the extensive aromatic medium roast coffees available here that use an artful combination of African, Brazilian and Sumatran beans. The service at Owlery Cafe Dine & Grind is attentive and friendly. The team of staff manages to juggle between informing diners on the menu and ensuring that dishes arrived hot to clearing the tables in a timely manner. But this is not exactly the place for a quiet romantic evening for two. Instead, this is the kind of place where you come to eat good food, enjoy drinks,

share laughter and have a good time (yes, with children in tow). Owlery Cafe Dine & Grind opens on Tuesdays till Sundays, from 12:00 p.m. to 12:00 a.m. The cafe is currently having special lunch sets at RM15.90 (excluding 6% GST + 4% service charge) from 12:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. G-6 Jalan Dagang B/3A Taman Dagang Avenue 55100 Ampang, Kuala Lumpur T: +6 03 4287 9639 FB: Owlerycafe Dine & Grind IG: @owlerycafe

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Gaya Dine

Savouring Jumbo Flavours of Thailand at myELEPHANT TEXT by SHAHIDA SAKERI

On a recent trip to Chiangmai, Thailand, a fellow traveller once told me: “When you’re feeling hungry, eat Thai food.” Thai cuisine does not only fill you up; it also has rich aromas and flavours that heighten your senses and increase the sensitivity of your taste buds, making the entire dining experience more gratifying. So on one fine afternoon, I purposefully headed to myELEPHANT, one of the best Thai restaurants in Kuala Lumpur for the past 10 years that shows no sign of waning. The owners had previously run another Thai restaurant called Dodee at Kuala Lumpur city centre; however, when they decided to move the business to Petaling Jaya, they injected the restaurant with a fresh look and gave it a new name, hence myELEPHANT was born. Today, MyELEPHANT is recognised as a first-rate establishment that promises satisfaction. It even bagged the title ‘Best Thai Restaurant’ multiple times during the Time Out KL Food Awards 2012, 2013, 2015 and 2016. 034

Now myELEPHANT has six outlets altogether – three company-owned and three franchised – with the chef originally hailed from Chiang Rai, northern Thailand. As the business expands, so does the number of the culinary team. I went to the main outlet at Petaling Jaya’s Section 17, to begin MyELEPHANT journey… MyELEPHANT’s main outlet unassumingly nestles at the ground level of Happy Mansion. As I stepped inside, I find myself admiring the restaurant’s soothing palette of grey, plain white and blue with stark white furniture. There are also large full height windows to ensure plenty of natural light. Besides its welcoming atmosphere, MyELEPHANT’s food is amazing too, with most dishes deliver that signature flavour integral to authentic Thai cuisine. I suggest that travellers start their meals here by ordering the Thai Pomelo Salad (RM26.50) as the starter, brims with irresistible flavours comprising fresh prawns with scallions, peanuts, toasted coconut shreds, coriander, onions, chillies and a pile of juicy pomelo. Travellers should then move on to myELEPHANT’s first signature dish: Chicken Green Curry (RM26.50) Though this dish can also be found at almost every other Thai restaurant, myELEPHANT’s version consists of remarkably tender chicken and fresh vegetables cooked in creamy yet spicy and incredibly tasty gravy. For those who prefer it milder, they may opt for the Deep-fried Chicken Strips (RM21.90) that are fried to perfection with kaffir lime leaves, garlic and crushed Thai peppercorn. Tom yum (RM10.60 per serving), a hot and sour soup, is another familiar sight, but the seafood portion is more generous than usual, with spicy galangal, lemongrass and herbs adding a punch to the deeply satisfying aromatic broth. Diners who prefer to luxuriate at a higher psychedelic level of fieriness may request for the soup to be made spicier. My dining adventure continues with the Salt-baked Whole Seabass (RM65.72) with myELEPHANT’s trademark signature green chilli sauce, a reason strong enough for the public to make a beeline to the restaurant. The seabass in its entirety is coated in generous amount of salt that is baked and skinned to keep it beautifully moist while maintaining layers of flavours that explode in the mouth.


All entrees on the menu pair well with any of the beverages on the menu, but if I were to suggest, go for the refreshing Pandan Cooler (RM3.71) or Green Aroma (RM8.48). Desserts like Red Ruby (RM6.89) and Mango with Glutinous Rice are laudable too. I could go on sharing my wonderful experience, but then I must say that none of my writing could ever compare to you personally tasting the dishes yourself – why don’t you drop everything and instead head to myELEPHANT straight away? The restaurant opens everyday for lunch at 12:00 p.m. to 2:00 p.m., and dinner at 6:00 p.m. until 10 p.m. MyELEPHANT Thai Restaurant Block C-G4, Happy Mansion Jalan 17/13, Section 17 46400 Petaling Jaya, Selangor T: +6010 220 1283 W: www.myelephant.com.my

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Gaya Shop

Shopping Guide in ASEAN TEXT by SHAHIDA SAKERI|IMAGES by RESPECTIVE PRODUCT OWNERS

Buy local, support local – this is one of the basic principles that every traveller should embrace whenever visiting foreign countries. The purchases made do not only support the economy of home-grown artisans and businesses, but also help to maintain local traditions and craftsmanship. Below are Gaya Travel’s picks as wonderful souvenirs – fashion pieces to be exact – that travellers can hunt when being in the ASEAN region.

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1. Woven sedge bag in Malaysia Since weaving is one of Malaysia’s important heritage, travellers can discover arrays of highly crafted hand woven products across the nation, including songket in Peninsular Malaysia’s East Coast, pua kumbu in Malaysian Borneo, and those made from local plant fibres such as mengkuang leaves and rattan. But our current obsessions are ‘Berkela Bakul’ and ‘Teman Tote’ by Mowgli (mowglistore.com) that make perfect beach holiday accessories. They are practical, minimal but oh so stylish and they are even waterproof !

2. Batik in Indonesia Being the country’s most highly developed art form, it would be hard to find a person who will not be captivated by exquisite and intricate designs of the Indonesian batik, perfect as gifts for loved ones or for yourself. Java is where batik is at its zenith, but you can also find a variety of designs elsewhere throughout Indonesia. Bateeq (www. bateeqshop.com) and Parang Kencana (www.parangkencana.com) are among our favourite brands.

3. Silkscreen craft in Singapore Being a global fashion capital on the rise, Singapore is home to fabulous outlets, offering plenty of trendy items that make the county a shopping haven. You can buy a traditional costume like a nyonya kebaya or opt for experimental modern pieces like silkscreen crafts made from traditional stencilling. Fictive Fingers (www. fictivefingers.com) creates beautiful collections, ranging from apparel to stationery.


4. Jong Sarat in Brunei Similar to the songket, jong sarat is an intricate hand-woven textile made from gold and silver thread using the finest cotton or silk fabric. It is mostly worn during royal and formal occasions, including weddings. These days, jong sarat has been given a modern twist by having it applied onto various casual wear that can be worn on daily basis, which Koleksi Husna (IG: koleksi.husnaa) specialises in.

5. Lanna-inspired craft in Thailand Lanna refers to an ancient kingdom that once covered Northern Thailand. It gave birth to a wonderful artistic and cultural style specific to the region. Lanna-inspired crafts can be found abundantly in Northern Thailand especially at community schools in local hill tribe villages; however, if you’re looking for collections that excel in both aesthetics and function, opt for Pancharee Brand (IG: pancharee_brand) or Upcycled Styles (upcycledstyles.com), which strive to bridge the gap between the hill tribes and fashionistas through fair trade.

6. Piña fabric in Philippines Piña is a natural fibre made from the leaves of pineapples, commonly hand loomed by skilled weavers to become a sheer, lustrous textile often used to make traditional Filipino clothing such as the Barong Tagalog. But these days, it has become fashionably mainstream as more brands like Kultura (www.kulturafilipino.com) ready to experiment with this fine fabric in creating timeless and elegant pieces. In Aklan, there’s even a festival dedicated to Piña alone.

7. Ao Dai in Vietnam The ao dai is a Vietnamese traditional long gown with slits on the sides that is worn with pants. Travellers can purchase it at Ben Thanh Market at arguably low prices. But you can also go to the tailors to have it custom-made at an extra cost. The Vietnamese tailors work fast, taking between one to two days to complete each order. We suggest Heaven Ao Dai (heavenaodai. com) on To Hien Thanh Street in Ho Chi Minh City for affordable stylish designs.

8. Lotus silk scarf in Myanmar Myanmar has a tradition of weaving lotus silk scarves and shawls from lotus fibres. The fabric is associated with a traditional legend a hundred years ago when a girl at Inle Lake wove a robe out of lotus fibres for her favourite monk. The tradition of weaving from lotus silk is still alive in the area, which also happens to be the place to buy the fabric.

9. Woven Silk in Laos Lao Silk is another highly valued craft due to its breathability and comfortable linen-like texture, making it suitable to turn it into practical pieces like skirts, wraps and scarves. The motifs and feels are deeply symbolic and dependent on the provinces where they are made: Sam Neua’s silk is thick and extremely solid while the silk from Xieng Kouang is finer, lighter and softer. Consider visiting Ock Pop Tok (ockpoptok.com), a fair trade and weaving centre in Luang Prabang, where travellers can participate in half-day courses and shop for genuine artisanal products at competitive prices.

10. Krama scarf in Cambodia Krama is a national symbol of the Khmer people that is multi-functional because it can be turned into turbans, wraps, bandanas, belts, hammocks and more. It is also hugely popular among youths who see it as an appealing fashion statement. Get your own krama from Give Krama (kramascarf.com) or Krama Krama (www.kramakrama.com)) since they donate part of the proceeds to various charities that help Cambodians in need.


Gaya Out & About

UNESCO Heritage Towns/Cities in ASEAN Region

Gaya Travel Magazine loves the towns or cities enlisted as part of the World Heritage Sites due to their enduring heritage, culture, quaintness, nostalgia and photogenic quality. When being in South East Asia, how about discovering the UNESCO Heritage Towns/Cities located within the ASEAN region for lessons on the destination’s history and intimate vibe?

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1. Melaka www.destinationmelaka.my/ With colonial government buildings, churches, squares and fortifications, Melaka showcases palpable heritage beginning from the early 15th century Malay Sultanate, followed by Portuguese, Dutch and British colonisation that give unique character to the city’s architecture and multi-cultural populace. Situated only 160 kilometres away from Kuala Lumpur, Melaka’s UNESCO core heritage zone covers from the iconic A’Famosa and Malacca Club building (now houses the Proclamation of Independence Memorial) to the atmospheric Jonker Walk and Jalan Masjid (where Kampung Hulu Mosque is located). The whole area oozes with history filled with remnants of old Portuguese fort and church, crimson-coloured Dutch edifices, British colonial architectural influences, pre-war shophouses, ornate Chinese Peranakan-style guesthouses, thriving galleries, antiques and curio shops, trendy restaurants and laidback bars. 2. Georgetown www.visitpenang.gov.my/ Located 360 kilometres north of

Kuala Lumpur, Penang island grew after the arrival of British East India Company’s Captain Francis Light in 1786. Light saw it as a promising and profitable trading port, which eventually flourished when many hopeful merchants, traders and labourers from across the seas arrived to seek riches. In honour of King George III, he established Georgetown as the first settlement on the island with four thoroughfares (Beach Street, Light Street, Pitt Street that is now called Masjid Kapitan Keling Street, and Chulia Street) that are used until today and impressive British colonial edifices, rendering the conurbation romantic and atmospheric. Similar to Melaka, Penang is also home to the wealthy Chinese Peranakan community, besides Indians, Malays, Arabs and Burmese. There also used to be thriving communities like the British, Armenians, Germans, Jews, Japanese, Thais, Portuguese and Eurasians on the island, but are no longer visible.

and French heritage architecture, temples, saffron-robed monks and laidback lifestyle. Situated 700 metres above sea level and surrounded by mountains, the town transports travellers to the bygone era when Indochina was still under French rule. (Go to page 84 to read more about Luang Prabang).

3. Luang Prabang tourismluangprabang.org/ Luang Prabang is 440 kilometres from Vientiane, Laos’ capital city. Charming, tranquil and dreamy, the town of Luang Prabang boasts Lao

5. Hoi An hoian-tourism.com/ Being among the largest and most prominent South East Asian port between the 15th and 19th century, Hoi An was an important trading centre

4. Ayutthaya www.tourismthailand.org/About-Thailand/Destination/Ayutthaya Only 85 kilometres away to the north of Bangkok, Ayutthaya became the second capital of Siam after Sukothai beginning 1350 A.D. Due to its proximity to the great civilisations in China, India and the Malay archipelago, Ayutthaya prospered as a trading post and even received merchants from as far as France in the early 1700s. Invaded by the Burmese in 1767, travellers can still see the splendour of ancient Ayutthaya through the elegant remains of what used to be temples, palaces, monasteries and reliquary towers.


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that drew Chinese, Japanese, Dutch and Indian merchants, resulting in a cultural confluence, made evident from the various architectural designs bearing indigenous and foreign influences that can still be seen on the buildings and along the streets of the old town. Hoi An is around 800 kilometres from Vietnam’s capital Hanoi and 30 kilometres from Da Nang, Vietnam’s third largest city. 6. Vigan www.experiencephilippines.org/vigan-ilocos-sur/ No other town in the Philippines evokes old-world allure

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IMAGE 01 by TOURISM MELAKA, IMAGE 02 by CHEONG FATT TZE MANSION & IMAGE 04 by TOURISM THAILAND

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as much as the provincial capital of Vigan, 408 kilometres north of Manila. With its unique blend of Asian design with European architecture and planning since Spanish rule, the Vigan’s old quarter consists of over 180 ancestral homes, administrative buildings, baroque religious structures and public squares. For more information on World Heritage Sites, visit whc.unesco.org.


Gaya Interview

Dato’ Zaharah Salamat Chief Executive Officer, Marina Putrajaya Sdn. Bhd.

As the CEO of Marina Putrajaya Sdn. Bhd. (MPSB), what are the prospects for the company 2017? What are MPSB’s targets in 2017?

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In reducing Perbadanan Putrajaya’s (PPj) maintenance costs and increasing its income, the management of PPj took over the management of Cruise Tasik Putrajaya (CTP) in 2013 and parked it under its subsidiary, i.e. Marina Putrajaya Sdn. Bhd. (MPSB). Since then, MPSB has successfully tripled the revenue of CTP and managed to reduce almost 30% of its operational and maintenance cost without jeopardising its service quality. Based on that achievement, MPSB was further tasked to manage and operate Marina Putrajaya (MP), a family sports & leisure tourism attraction in January 2014; Pusat Rekreasi Air Putrajaya (PRAP), an ecotourism attraction in April 2014; and Kompleks Sukan Air Presint 6 (KOSA), another family sports & leisure tourism attraction in February 2016. In May 2015, MPSB collaborated with Skyride Worldwide Sdn. Bhd. to operate Putrajaya Skyrides Festival Park (Skyrides), which holds the Malaysia Book of Record for the first and largest tethered balloon in Malaysia. The company now has expanded from managing only water-related attractions to land and aerial attractions as well. With these tourists attractions at hand, the

prospect for MPSB in 2017 is limitless. Thus, we are targeting to increase our revenue to more than 30% in 2017 compared to 2016. The tremendous hike on our target is to challenge ourselves so that we can become better in offering attractive products and packages to customers. In order to achieve its target, MPSB will further widen its prospects while banking on the CTP and MP since these two attractions are already popular among tourists, including residents of Putrajaya and its surroundings.

What new offerings can the public expect from MPSB in 2017? Public can expect more excitement in terms of new products and attractive packages. We are in the midst of planning to add a new pontoon boat that offers a different experience while cruising on Putrajaya Lake. Besides, we are also planning to open another jetty in Cyberjaya to increase the number of ridership from the multimedia super corridor area and its surroundings. For Marina Putrajaya, MPSB and its joint venture company Bora Ombak has embarked on a unique and appealing offerings such as Indus Café and Wedding Halls. The café not only serves sumptuous and a wide range of dining menu but it also offers a superb dining ambiance with light entertainment and magnificent view of Putrajaya Lake. Likewise, the wedding halls also

offer attractive options, including honeymoon packages. We are also negotiating with another joint venture company to introduce a mini water theme park in Marina Putrajaya. In sports tourism, Marina Putrajaya seeks to become the centre of excellence in canoeing whereby canoeists from all over the world will converge and use its facilities during winter. MPSB and another joint venture company Aerolomba (the organiser of the renowned Red Bull International Air Race Championship 2015) is collaborating to develop a Remote Control (RC) Track, Drone Competition Track and air strips/mini runways related services at Kompleks Sukan Air Putrajaya. Although it has just opened to the public since January 2017, the complex has attracted thousands of RC and drone enthusiasts. MPSB also has earmarked Kompleks Sukan Air Putrajaya to become the meeting place for youths, whom we call hipsters. As for Pusat Rekreasi Air Putrajaya, MPSB will further develop the area to become the centre for outdoor activities among school goers and students of higher learning institutions. The place will also be equipped with camping facilities and other water-based activities.


How did MPSB perform in 2016? Did MPSB experience increase in terms of the number of customers and sales compared to the previous year? Despite the economic slowdown and unpredictable weather, we managed to improve our financial performance in 2016. Surprisingly, we chalked up nearly 20% increase in the number of international tourists. I strongly believe that this is due to our aggressive marketing and selling missions abroad. Our travel agency partners are also satisfied with our service, therefore they bring in more tourists. To further increase the number of tourist arrivals, we will continue to invest in advertising and promotion to create more awareness among the Indian, Arabian, Singaporean, Chinese, Indonesian and European markets. This also includes participation in International Tourism Fairs to make our presence felt and provide first-hand information to our potential customers.

Looking at the trends and business conditions from 2015 until today, what are the challenges that MPSB has been facing and how has the company successfully overcome them? Good governance Being the focus of attractions in Putrajaya and winning the customers’ trust is not easy. During the taking over period, nothing much has been developed especially in terms of Standard Operation Procedures (SOPs) and manuals. As an integral part of good governance, MPSB has to painstakingly develop its own SOPs and manuals from scratch for all aspects of governance such as administration, finance, human resource, operation, business planning and development, among other.

“Since PPj took over Cruise Tasik Putrajaya (CTP) in 2013 and parked it under Marina Putrajaya Sdn. Bhd., CTP’s revenue has been tripled and cost reduced almost 30% without jeopardising service quality”

Competency When taking over, MPSB decided to continue the services of the existing staff. Unfortunately, most of them have not being trained or possess the right competencies in hospitality or tourism. The company doesn’t have enough allocation for training, therefore we rely heavily on free of charge training programmes, Training-theTrainers and in-house training/campaign schemes. To expedite and motivate the development of competency among staff, MPSB has introduced incentives and acknowledgement schemes such as The Best of The Month Award, The Best Department Award, The Best Head of Department Award and The Top Sales Person Award. Understanding market needs As a newly established company, MPSB does not have ample database for decision-making, especially in operations, services, and business planning and development. As a response, MPSB has to spend a lot of time and resources conducting research and studies, including database gathering to understand the market needs in depth, besides understanding the business’ strengths, weaknesses, prospects and threats.

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The influencers From the research and studies conducted, we concluded that international tourists, corporate and government segments should become our primary target markets. We then strengthened our working relationship with travel agents and various government agencies, especially Tourism Malaysia and corporate sectors, to attract more tourist arrivals and patronage from these segments. Knowing the importance of travel agents and other stakeholders, MPSB offers lucrative sales commission and group discounts to travel agents and related agencies from the government and corporate sectors. We also introduced loyalty programmes to encourage repeat customers.

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Branding and Positioning Nothing much has been known about MPSB and its products during its inception. Thus, MPSB embarked on the rebranding approach by aggressively portraying Putrajaya as the most attractive place to go and Cruise Tasik Putrajaya as a must-visit tourist attraction via primary, electronic and social media. In addition to that, we have introduced innovative and valuefor-money packages, while providing the best customer service at the same time.

Maintenance Cost Finance has always been a burning issue to a newly established company. Although MPSB is a subsidiary of PPj, it does not have the luxury of receiving financial assistance from PPj. To reduce its dependence on PPj, MPSB has established its own maintenance team specialising in cruise and building maintenance. With this approach, MPSB has remarkably reduced the maintenance cost to more than 30%.

How large is MPSB’s contribution towards tourism in Putrajaya since its opening up until today? We have significantly elevated Putrajaya’s tourism industry especially when we received accolades such as being in the Top 7 Best Tourist Attractions (Man-made Attraction/ Theme park) during the Malaysian Tourism Awards 2014/2015 and receiving MyTQA Certification from the Ministry of Tourism and Culture Malaysia. MPSB has always been contributing to the number of domestic and international tourist arrivals in Putrajaya, especially when the number of visitors to MPSB’s attractions has now tripled compared back in 2013. The socio-economic aspects are also

being improved, since MPSB uses local vendors/panels to support its business especially in F&B, housekeeping, landscape and general maintenance.

What kind of organisation does Dato’ hope for MPSB to become by 2020? I hope that by 2020: » MPSB’s products will be the preferred choice for leisure and sports tourism, as well as for wedding tourism; » MPSB will be the leading organisation in tourism related industry in Putrajaya; » MPSB will be the most profitable and established company within the PULSE Group of Companies; » MPSB will extend its service in tourism industry specialising in cruise and boating tourism, ecotourism, and sports and recreation tourism, beyond Putrajaya; » MPSB will be the key player in the tourism industry not only in Putrajaya but also in Malaysia; » MPSB will contribute significantly to Putrajaya’s social and economic development.


Gaya Interview

Mr. P.M. Withana, Chairman of Sri Lanka Tourism Promotion Bureau & Chairman of Sri Lankan Tourism Development Authority IMAGES by MOHD SHAHRIL FAWZY

Gaya Travel Magazine recently interviewed Mr. P.M. Withana, the Chairman of Sri Lanka Tourism Promotion Bureau and the Chairman of Sri Lankan Tourism Development Authority to learn more about the state of Sri Lanka’s tourism industry. Tourism as a main income earner The interview kickstarted on how the Sri Lanka’s tourism industry is currently doing. “Right after the 30-year civil war ended, tourism in Sri Lanka is back on track by immediately chalking up 30% tourist arrivals – Sri Lanka has bounced back from its setbacks and harmony within the country has been restored,” beams Mr. Withana. Tourism is Sri Lanka’s third highest exchange earner for the country, after apparels and remittances from Sri Lankan foreign workers. “We want more people to travel to Sri Lanka. Tourism for Sri Lanka is interconnected because it has large spillover effect onto the Sri Lankan economy – when travellers spend and consume products and services in Sri Lanka, they help to boost local economy,” he says. “Sri Lanka offers nature and wildlife, heritage, culture, tea plantations, beaches and food. It is a compact country that is around 65,000 square kilometres, so travellers can experience many things, from rainforests to highlands, then down to the northeastern part that has dry area and proceed to the coast for beaches – all that can be experienced in one trip. That is how mostly travellers who stay longer such as the Europeans, enjoy Sri Lanka,” Mr. Withana adds. Mr. Withana further states that growth of tourist arrivals has been increasing on the average of 18% over the last four years, therefore Sri Lanka is confident that the number of tourist arrivals will keep on rising. “Nowhere else in the world registers such high growth it is even better than the world tourism average growth of 4%. In 2015, Sri Lanka received 1.8 million tourist arrivals, while 2016 saw the country receiving more than

two million tourist arrivals. Based on this, Sri Lanka is confident that tourist arrivals will increase over the next few years,” he expounds.

Source markets Sri Lanka is currently enjoying the largest tourist arrivals from India being its neighbour. There are 150 flights a week connecting Colombo to India’s major cities to serve the pilgrimage, business and leisure markets. The arrivals from China come in second largest, leveraging on the fact that all Chinese airlines fly into Sri Lanka while Sri Lankan Airlines flies directly from Colombo to four Chinese cities: Shanghai, Beijing, Guangzhou and Hong Kong. Being the national carrier, Sri Lankan Airlines concentrates on these two markets because of the people’s large propensity to travel. As with the rest of the world, Sri Lanka strongly targets travellers from mainland China due to its 130 million-strong outbound market. “The numbers are there. In a few years, I suspect the tourist arrivals from mainland China will surpass tourist arrivals from India,” foresees Mr. Withana. The combination of both India and China itself represents 32% of the total tourist arrivals to Sri Lanka, making it a third of Sri Lanka’s tourism business. Sri Lanka attempts to reinvigorate tourist arrivals from the Middle East, a region that is connected to Sri Lanka via 100 flights per week but now affected by the global economy. Fortunately, the slowdown from that market has been offset by the growth of tourist arrivals from India and China.

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The next largest group of markets is from Europe with the likes of United Kingdom, France and Germany, representing 25% of the total tourist arrivals and considered mainstay. “We still keep the traditional markets because they are the best. The reason: they stay the longest in the country, around 10 to 11 days compared to travellers from the Asian markets, thus adding more revenue to the country. These travellers also do not stay in just one place – they travel throughout the island since it is now safe and secure. Of course, there are still a few cases that happen here and there, but they are very rare and far in between,” he explains. After having said that, Mr. Withana remains confident that the Indian and Chinese markets will grow, especially the latter, which will have more impact on Sri Lanka’s tourism. When talking about the markets from South East Asia, Sri Lanka primarily targets Buddhists from that region since the country is predominantly Buddhist – it is only natural for Sri Lanka to encourage Buddhists elsewhere to come and follow Buddha’s trails since Lord Buddha himself actually walked on Sri Lankan soil three times in his life. Sri Lanka can easily tap Buddhist travellers from Thailand, Indochina, Myanmar, Malaysia, Singapore and even Indonesia. There are also large Buddhist communities to be found in Japan, China, and Korea. All airlines from the said markets fly to Colombo, so there is no issue in terms of flight connectivity. South East Asian Buddhists are also invited to attend the annual United Nations-recognised Wesak Day every May, which celebrates the birth of Buddha. As a matter of fact, in conjunction with the upcoming Wesak Festival week in May 2017, the government of Sri Lanka is inviting leaders from major Buddhist nations to attend a summit that time. “We are also attracting Hindus via the Ramayana trail, besides other market segments like Muslim travellers by offering them the Sri Lankan Malay community and halal experiences. As a

matter of fact, Sri Lanka is looking into halal seriously – alongside friendlier visa policies – because we want to encourage Muslim pilgrims from South East Asia heading to Mecca to stop over in Sri Lanka for an enriching three-day tour filled with halal cuisine, mosques, Sri Lankan Malay village and the Elephant Orphanage. This is also to leverage on Sri Lanka’s geographical location since it is half way between the Middle East and South East Asia,” Mr. Withana reveals. In 2016, Sri Lanka received around 25,000 Malaysian tourist arrivals (the highest ever recorded), registering an increase of 10% to 12% from the previous years. With the population of approximately 30 million, Malaysia is an important market for Sri Lanka due to its multicultural makeup. Kuala Lumpur is also only three hours and a half away from Colombo by flight. Both countries are connected by Sri Lankan Airlines, Malaysia Airlines, AirAsia and Malindo Air, totalling 31 flights a week.

Investments pouring in Investors are able to access Sri Lanka due to flight connectivity and Colombo’s hub position. With the increase in tourist arrivals, the Sri Lankan tourism industry now focusses on the issue of providing enough accommodation offerings to meet demand, therefore investments are pouring in to build more hotels and resorts such as those by Shangri-La, Hyatt, Moevenpick and Minor Group, including investments into other tourism sectors. In Colombo, a 240-hectare of reclaimed land project called Harbour City is well under way, which comes with a marina and invested by Singaporeans and mainland Chinese, attesting to their confidence towards Sri Lanka’s tourism industry. The project is also in line with Sri Lanka’s intention to become a cruise and yacht hub. At the same time, Malaysians do invest in stratified properties in Colombo. Sri Lanka also lures investors to develop golf courses in Sri Lanka. Due to the large influx of international travellers,

restaurants in Sri Lanka are evolving, now becoming international and diverse. Sri Lanka plans to further develop the East Coast to boost the region’s tourism, involving stretches of coastline covering Trincomalee, Batticaloa and Arugam Bay. The government also intends to further develop ecotourism hotspots throughout Sri Lanka such as Monaragala, the Kalpitiya islands, Yalle wildlife sanctuary and Bentota by partnering with the private sector. “Government is keen to invest in tourism in the form of land and hard assets, and then invite international investors to come in, manage these assets and increase their value, besides bringing in income for themselves and the nation,” notes Mr. Withana.

Challenges One challenge that Sri Lanka faces is the issue of carrying capacity. Sri Lanka emphasises on sustainability and the


sprightly. “According to the trends, tourism globally is growing. Out of 11 persons being employed in a population, one of them is employed by the tourism industry. Tourism also contributes 10% of the GDP. We can see more large cruise ships being built like never before, coinciding with the increasing number of aging people in the world who prefer to spend time travelling on these ships. “Of course, tourism is very sensitive and very much dependent on people. Though untoward incidences like natural disasters and terrorist threats do happen, travel and tourism business would not stop but instead continue and improve. The current Sri Lankan government gives more power to the people through strong representation in parliament, thus emphasises on maintaining peace, reconciliation and harmony. Tourism is identified as one of the key drivers to propel Sri Lanka into a prosperous future for all its citizens. On these accounts, Sri Lankan tourism industry will surely grow,” ends Mr. Withana on a high note. 051

need to manage the capacities of its places of worship, heritage and natural sites because there is only so many travellers that they can hold at any given time. One example in managing capacity is to have the natural sites in Sri Lanka close for up to three months to allow flora and fauna to regenerate and flourish. The next challenge relates to business: the increasing number of hotels that are coming up requires increasing number of local skilled workforce to serve them, therefore the Sri Lankan government addresses this shortfall through education and training. Another concern that is currently tackled by the Sri Lankan government is to cut red tape when it comes to approving investments and facilitating investors.

The way ahead When asked for his view on how he sees Sri Lanka’s tourism industry in the next few years, Mr. Withana turns

“Tourism is identified as one of the key drivers to propel Sri Lanka into a prosperous future for all its citizens. ”


Destinations: In Brief

Kuantan & Pekan, Pahang TEXT|IMAGES by HALIZSHA HALIM

In conjunction with the launch of Visit Pahang Year 2017, Gaya Travel Magazine visited Pahang’s capital city Kuantan and Pahang’s royal town Pekan. Pahang – the largest state in Peninsular Malaysia – is rich with boundless nature, history and great food, which should be savoured by all travellers. The following are the places and attractions that are recommended for travellers to experience when being in Kuantan and Pekan.

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What to experience Kompleks Tenun Pahang DiRaja Sultan Haji Ahmad Shah Sungai Soi (Tenun Pahang Gallery) As we all know, Peninsular Malaysia’s East Coast is well known for the region’s hand-woven fabric called songket, which has now become part of the Malaysian culture used mainly during formal occasions. Pahang is known to produce its own particular type of songket, believed to have originated from Riau or Sulawesi and brought over to Pahang in the 16th century and now becomes part the state’s heritage. This gallery showcases delicate hand-woven fabrics in various colours and patterns, which travellers can purchase and even have it custom-made. The gallery receives more than 100 orders per month.

Business Hours: Monday - Friday 10:00 a.m. – 6:00 p.m. Saturday 10:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. Lot 1-47, Kompleks Teruntum 25000 Kuantan, Pahang Tel: +6 09 5562 344 Fax: +6 09 5158 749 www.tenunpahang.com.my


To start exploring the tunnels, travellers initially take an 80-metre train ride. Once inside, travellers can roam around the 520 metres of tin-mining tunnels. The setting is almost similar to the film “Journey To The Centre Of The Earth”.

Rainbow Waterfall When Gaya Travel team was in Pahang during the third week of January 2017, it rained non-stop. However, that did not dampen our spirit to check on the much talked-about Rainbow Waterfall, one of Sungai Lembing’s highlights. The tiny droplets of falling water divert the spectrum sunlight that creates rainbow, which can be seen clearly, hence the waterfall’s name. Journey to the Rainbow Waterfall takes about an hour’s off-road ride on four-wheeled drive and another 30 to 40 minutes of hiking. When we reached the waterfall, it looked like heaven on earth. We were lucky because the waterfall was strong Tip: If you want to see the rainbow, come early.

due to rainy season. Do take note that the rainbow may not appear if the waterfall is not strong (especially during dry season like February until August) or when there is overcast. Though getting to the waterfall might exhaust you, the sight of the beautiful rainbow makes the hike worth it. Open: 6:30 a.m. – 1:00 p.m. Journey Begins: 6:30 a.m. Fees: RM50 per pax

Sungai Lembing, Pahang Tel : +6 019 944 6167 GPS Coordinates: 3.922418, 102.958537

This mine also has a legend called “The Million Dollar Chamber”, involving a large-scale heist that took place in 1987, shortly after the closure of the mine. It is believed that a band of 20 unpaid miners took matters into their own hands and illegally mined for tin ore at night, prospecting RM2,00 to RM3,00 worth of tin nightly. Over a period of time, the miners made a total haul valued at around RM1,000,000. The ore collected from the mine is believed to have been crushed manually at their own homes before sold off at the black market. The chamber was fully prospected until it became structurally unsafe. What became of the miners and their tin haul remain unknown. Opens daily from Monday - Sunday 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.

Lombong Bijih Timah Bawah Tanah Sungai Lembing (Tai Pei Tong) You will be surprised to learn that this tin mine was once the longest and deepest underground tin mine in the world. Just imagine: the total length of the Sungai Lembing mining tunnels is longer than the distance from Kuantan to Kuala Lumpur! There are 14 different mining tunnels, each with its own name such as Willinks, Pollocks, and Gunong, including Tabeto, the main tunnel, which is also known as “Tai Pei Tong” among locals.

Jalan Muzium Sungai Lembing, 26200 Sungai Lembing, Pahang Malaysia Tel: +6 09 541 2378 GPS Coordinates: 3.913858, 103.032287

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Sultan Abu Bakar Museum Sultan Abu Bakar Museum, which is also the State Museum, is where travellers can learn about the history of Pahang. Located along Jalan Sultan Ahmad facing the mighty Pahang River, the museum possesses well-documented history of Pahang and its royal household. The museum reopened after a full refurbishment in 2012. This museum has a gallery that displays various artefacts and exhibits such as the history of the Malay Sultanate of Pahang, ceramics and archaeology, including local arts and crafts.

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Opening Hours: Tuesday - Thursday, Saturday - Sunday 9.00 a.m. - 5.00 p.m. Friday 9:00 a.m. – 12:00 noon 2:00 p.m. – 5:00 p.m. Monday - closed Fees: RM5 for non-Pahang visitors RM4 for Pahang visitors Free entrance for students and children aged 12 and below Lembaga Muzium Negeri Pahang, Jalan Sultan Ahmad 26600 Pekan, Pahang Tel: +6 09 442 1371, +6 09 422 1259 Fax Number: +6 09 422 1572

Masjid Sultan Abdullah Museum Just a few steps from the Sultan Abu Bakar Museum lies another museum that is a former mosque with stately Moorish design built in early 1929 and completed in 1930. It was once left unused since 1976 because Pekan’s burgeoning congregation required newer mosques. The building was finally renovated and readapted into a museum that has been operating since 2015, showcasing Islamic arts, heritage, civilisation and scientific advancements. Besides artefacts, there is also an open space still maintained by the museum for Muslims to perform their prayers. Admission: Free Kampung Pancur, 26600 Pekan, Pahang GPS Coordinates: 3.495360, 103.389128

Where to eat Craving for that zesty flavour of tempoyak (condiment made from fermented durian)? Pahang is famous for dishes made from tempoyak, thus all foodies must dine at these two restaurants in Kuantan for that delirious tempoyak experience! Jaman Tory Resepi From a distance, this two-storey restaurant looks like any other eatery. However, after stepping into the dining area either at the bottom or the top floor, travellers would realise that the decor resembles the coffee shops from the bygone era. Jaman Tory means Zaman Dahulu (olden days). This shop is famous for its local dishes such as Set Daging Salai (smoked beef ), Set Ikan Patin (shark catfish), Set Spaggeti Patin (shark catfish with spaghetti), Spaghetti Ikan Salai (smoked fish spaghetti) and Patin Bakar Tempoyak (grilled shark catfish with tempoyak), which is the most popular. Opening Hours: Everyday 12:00 p.m. – 1:30 a.m. A15 2/3 Indera Mahkota 2, Bandar Indera Mahkota 25200 Kuantan, Pahang Tel: +6 019 998 8212


Where to stay T-Box Sungai Lembing Those who really want to commune with nature that is not too far off from Klang Valley should check out T-Box Sungai Lembing – this is where many travellers fall in love with Sungai Lembing’s surroundings at first sight. T-Box Sungai Lembing offers different room types housed in cleverly renovated containers to cater to various travellers: the colourful cabins can accommodate up to eight persons; the Japanese Cabin and the Wooden Cottage can accommodate four people; and single beds for individual travellers. Activities provided include tandem cycling and bubble football.

Azmi Steam Tempoyak, Tanjung Lumpur This restaurant is famous in Lipis and began operations in Tanjung Lumpur, Kuantan on 18 April 2016. Fondly known as Brother Mie Pelangkor, this eatery specialises in Stim Tempoyak dan Kicap (steamed Jelai River fish from Lipis with tempoyak and soy sauce). This restaurant should be on all the list of all travellers who are bold, adventurous, intrepid foodies who can handle tempoyak. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself automatically heading for seconds or thirds! Business Hour: 11:00 a.m. – 12:00 midnight Lot 42757 Kampung Peramu, Balok 26060 Kuantan, Pahang Tel: +6 013 911 5500 GPS Coordinates: 3.781433, 103.322586

EB, 33, Jalan Sungai Lembing, Kampung Tengah, 26200 Sungai Lembing, Pahang Tel: +6 010 288 2993 GPS Coordinates: 3.907862, 103.030791 tboxsungailembing.com

MS Garden Hotel Kuantan Only 3 hours’ drive from Kuala Lumpur, the 4-star MS Garden Hotel, located in the heart of Kuantan amidst the commercial business centre, forms an impressive landmark. The hotel has been providing balance between business and leisure to all its guests, offering facilities and services that are among the best in the city. Lot 5 & 10, Lorong Gambut, Off Jalan Berserah, 25300 Kuantan, Pahang Tel: +6 09 5118888 Fax: +6 09 5177016 GPS Coordinates: 3.815489, 103.331886 msgarden.com.my

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Destinations

A Wonderfully Memorable Trip to Wonderful Indonesia TEXT|IMAGES by MOHD SHAHRIL FAWZY

Without a doubt, Indonesia is one of my favourite travel destinations in Asia. This country warmed my heart with its cultural and linguistic diversity, a great amount of remarkable temples, picturesque landscapes, cloud-swept mountains and delightful local cuisines. Due to the limitless possibilities that it offers, I certainly do not mind returning. As such, I willingly accepted the invitation by the Ministry of Culture and Tourism of Indonesia to explore and experience the charms of four selected provinces (South Sulawesi, West Nusa Tenggara, East and West Java) through a familiarisation programme called The Trip of Wonder, in line with the Wonderful Indonesia campaign. Makassar, South Sulawesi 060

Discover Bantimurung Bulusaraung National Park The first place we visited was the Bantimurung Bulusaraung National Park. A visit to the park gives travellers the great opportunity to witness the Rammang-Rammang karst area, covering approximately 43,000 hectares and contains 286 caves (including 16 of the regency’s pre-historic caves). Located in Maros Regency, this park is a symbol of Sulawesi Island beauty and tranquility. Besides the karst area, another draw that makes Bantimurung Bulusaraung National Park as one of the must-visit place in South Sulawesi is the waterfall, perfect for cooling down and immerse in pristine nature. Getting there: If one wishes to experience a bit of adventure, try riding a local mini-bus called petepete from several stops at Makassar to Bantimurung Bulusaraung National Park. Tip: There are gazebos available near the waterfall, ideal for enjoying meals and relaxing. Do bring extra clothes if you wish to get wet. GPS: -5.015780, 119.684789

It Feels Like a Private Island at Kodingareng Keke Your trip to Makassar is not complete without visiting the uninhabited island of Kodingareng Keke Island, one of the 11 islands that make up Spermonde Archipelago in Makassar. Though Kodingareng Keke is just a small island with limited building or infrastructure, it is still worth to be discovered due to its great underwater scenery – it is the best snorkeling opportunity to see adorable marine creatures, including blue starfish. Getting there: Take a return boat trip from Kayu Bangkoa Port to Kodingareng Keke that costs IDR 600,000 per person Tip: Do bring your own snorkelling gear (fins are highly recommended if you wish to go further from the beach); drink and food (since as there is no shop available on the island); and sunscreen (if you really need it). Best time to visit is between June and September. GPS: -5.103396, 119.289102


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Admiring the pristine nature while discovering the waterfall in Bantimurung Bulusaraung National Park Crystal clear water is one of the reasons people should visit Kodingareng Keke island when in Makassar


Catch Beautiful Sunset from Pantai Losari Makassar offers breathtaking sea views since it is located on the Southwest coast of Sulawesi that faces the Makassar Strait. Pantai Losari, a beach that can be found on the western part of the city, has become popular among locals and foreigners to experience viewing of sunset and sunrise, tasting delightful local culinary offerings and participating in random festivals held there. Getting there: The sunset and sunrise spot is located near Mesjid Amirul Mukminin (Floating Mosque) at the Western end of the city. Travellers can access it by walking or taking the local public transport. Tip: Try mouth-watering local dishes like coto Makassar (a stew containing beef and innards with seasoning broth made from ground peanuts) and pisang epe (grilled banana) that are widely available at the food stalls nearby.

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Savouring Local Dishes I suppose experiencing the local food is a huge part of travelling. Thus, embarking on a journey to Makassar is a treat for the taste bud because the city is considered as a major culinary destination in Indonesia. During the trip, I sampled a few of local dishes that I never before seen anywhere else in Indonesia. First one was pallubasa, which you can have at Palbas Serigala. It is popular among Indonesians for its hearty meat stews. Similar to coto Makassar, pallubasa is a thick and rich mixed beef soup containing cattle or buffalo offal cooked for a long time. Egg yolk is added to the soup to make it more enticing. As for dessert, Muda-Mudi restaurant serves up the thirst-quenching es pisang ijo, which is heavenly when consumed during hot Makassar weather. The dessert is made up of peeled banana wrapped in pandan-flavoured dough and served with shaved ice, condensed milk, vanilla syrup and tapioca. Palbas Serigala GPS: -5.160517, 119.421105 Muda-Mudi Restaurant GPS: -5.151028, 119.421940

Lombok, West Nusa Tenggara Indulge in Sasak Culture at Sasak Sade Village Located in Central Lombok, Sasak Sade Village is a traditional village of the largest tribe in Lombok, which is the Sasak. This village gives the opportunity to travellers experience the rich Sasak culture. One can expect to see the row of traditional houses that are typically built from wood

or bamboo for the roofs and walls, and a mixture of ash and clay for the floor. It is interesting to know that buffalo dung is used to wash the floor – it is believed that the dung keeps mosquito away and make the floor warm. Stepping further into the heart of the village, travellers may see women busy with yarn and traditional loom in front of their own houses while the men generally farm at the garden, some even work as tour guides. Sade village is also famous for ikat weaving (dyeing technique used to create the designs on fabric) and unique handicrafts made by the women. Be sure to grab some of the artful handicrafts or woven fabrics as souvenirs. Getting there: Sasak Sade Village is located about 30 kilometres from the city of Mataram. You may opt for a tour package or simply hire a one-day supir (driver) to bring you around and explore the nearby attractions. Tip: It is highly recommended for you to follow the guided tour so that you can understand and appreciate this village better. You may request for it at the village entrance (price is around IDR 100,000 per person for one session).

GPS: -8.838918, 116.291848

Gili Trawangan, Meno and Air – The Pearls of Lombok While every year millions of tourists are drawn to Bali, Lombok seems to hold so much potential due to it being less discovered, especially its smaller islands. Lombok has around 35 smaller islands and islets called gili; the popular ones are Gili Trawangan, Gili Air and Gili Meno. Gili Trawangan is the liveliest and well known among the three gilis, also ranked alongside Bali and Borobudur as one of Indonesia’s top destinations. It is ideal place for travellers seeking vibrant bars, happening parties, seafood restaurants, upscale resorts, water activities and catching up sunset or sunrise view. Meanwhile, Gili Air is the closest to Lombok mainland and a favourite spot for budget travellers. Gili Meno is the smallest and least developed, perfect for snorkelling offshore amongst hawksbill and green sea turtles. Getting there: Travellers need to take a speedboat trip either from Bali (around three hours) or Teluk Kodek (around 30 minutes) to Gili Trawangan. Tip: Motorised vehicle is prohibited on the island. It is possible for travellers to explore the island by simply walking around the island (taking maybe two to three hours depending on pace), cycling or riding on cidomo (horsedrawn carriage).


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Witnessing the majestic sunset view at the Pantai Losari in Makassar Pallubasa - a Makassar’s must-try dish Amaq Tempengus Dance, performed to welcome the guests at Sasak Sade Village Gili Trawangan’s iconic picturesque spot


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07. Breathtaking views to enjoy along the hike up to Mount Ijen

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East Java Conquering Mount Ijen Ijen Crater – also known among Indonesians as Kawah Ijen – is one of the popular destinations in Banyuwangi, attracting countless mountain enthusiasts and hikers. The largest acidic lake in the world and mesmerising blue flames at night are enough reasons for travellers from all over the world to come to East Java. The three-hour hike (duration depending on the person’s pace and stamina) leads to the top of Mount Ijen where one can descend near the lake to see the blue flame and enjoy the majestic sunset view from the rim of Mount Ijen. The best time to start hiking to Ijen Crater is in the early morning, around 2:00 to 3:00 a.m. – the earlier the better so that travellers can reach on time. Why should travellers take the trouble to experience such an adventure when being in Indonesia? It is because the blue fire is a unique phenomenon that can only be seen in two places in the world: Ijen Crater in Indonesia, and Iceland. Getting there: The hike is suitable for experienced and non-experienced mountaineers without respiratory illness. Wear highly-filtered gas mask to protect against the toxic sulphur clouds. Best time to go is between June and August. Tip: Travellers can take 4x4 vehicle that costs around IDR55,000 per person to get to the starting point of the hike up to Ijen Crater.

GPS: -8.059094, 114.240509


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Baluran National Park – The Little Africa of Java Baluran National Park is unique in many ways. Located in Situbondo Regency, this park has a relatively dry climate and a quintessential savanna, making it the only place in Indonesia that allows travellers to enjoy close encounter with exotic animals like the Javanese wild ox (banteng), barking deer, feral water buffalo and various other species in an African-like setting. Expect to savour an undeniably stunning view of the Mount Baluran (an inactive volcano) located in the centre of the park. Baluran National Park has an observation tower on a hill at Bekol that provides the opportunity to see animals from a distance. When travellers journey another 15 kilometres from the park entrance, they are bound to stumble upon a beautiful white beach called Bama Beach, the habitat for coral reef, fish and mangroves. Getting there: Best way to visit Baluran National Park is by hiring a local driver from Situbondo or Banyuwangi (Around one hour and 30 minutes’ drive from both regencies). Tip: The panorama in Baluran undergoes a dramatic change depending on seasons – the best time to visit is during the later half of the dry season, which is from June to October. GPS: -7.831093, 114.387969

West Java Kawah Putih Located near the charming little market town of Ciwidey, approximately 50 kilometres south of Bandung, Kawah Putih (White Crater) is one of West Java’s charms due to its surreal turquoise coloured lake inside with a stunning backdrop of tree-clad cliffs surrounding it. Since it is located 2,500 metres above sea level, the local climate is normally chilly with the temperature around 10 to 15 degrees Celcius. Travellers should spend a few hours and stroll around the crater to admire the area’s natural splendour. Getting there: From Bandung, the trip takes a little over two hours depending on traffic. Once arrived at the Kawah Putih entrance, travellers need to take angkot (a mini-van) that will transfer them to the crater. GPS: -7.165885, 107.402129

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Enchanting Baluran National Park - one of the greatest gems in East Java Kawah Putih promises a unique experience to witness the beautiful and surreal turqoise coloured lake

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The famous platform called “View of Hell�, where travellers can clearly see Mount Fuji across Tokyo Bay The enchanting and intriguing Nomizo Falls Luscious strawberries ripe for picking at Mother Farm


Destinations

Chiba Calls! TEXT|IMAGES by ED JUNAIDI

First and foremost, let us tell you that Chiba is definitely where the fun begins! Being the home to Narita Airport, Chiba is the strategic international gateway into Japan. Located just next to the world renowned Tokyo, the prefecture is the closest destination for locals and foreigners to escape the bustling metropolitan life through its endless fun offerings like natural wonders, amusement parks, culture, heritage, shopping, and cuisine. Chiba is also blessed with mild climate all year long, suitable for growth of blooming flowers in most months of the year. Chiba Students Monitor Tour Back in January 2017, Chiba Prefecture Government organised a special tour for selected Malaysian students to explore and experience Chiba as an uplifting destination. This group comprised selected students capable in influencing and sparking interest among Malaysian youths to discover Chiba through various social media platforms. These students explored Chiba’s various delights, which are recommended for all travellers and mentioned in these pages. The students were enthusiastically welcomed by the Governor of Chiba Prefecture, Mr. Kensaku Morita, in his office where they exchanged inputs on student tourism in Chiba. He was a famous actor back in the 1960’s and 1970’s, but pursued his career in politics, which eventually led him to be elected as the Governor of Chiba for several terms. Tourism has always been his passion and he always finds a new way to promote Japan, especially Chiba, on his agenda.

NATURAL WONDERS Nokogiri Mountain www.mt-nokogiri.co.jp There is an observatory called Sancho that looks towards Tokyo Bay where during a clear weather, Mount Fuji can be seen majestically standing across the sea. If you are up to it, you may also hike for 15 minutes to see the “Hundred-shaku Kannon”, a tall relief image of Kannon (Goddess of Mercy). From there, about a 10-minute hike to the top, visitors can access a naturally formed viewing platform nicknamed “View of Hell” due to the sensation that visitors feel when being on the tip of the viewing platform. Other than that, travellers may take a paved trek down the mountain to visit the 1,300-year old Nihonji Temple and witness the largest Ishidaibutsu, one of the greatest Buddha statues in Asia, including 1,500 other stone statues of Buddhist saints. Travellers may access Nokogiri Mountain by walking about seven minutes from Hamakanaya station on JR Uchibo Line and take the ropeway to reach Sancho Observatory.

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Also check out: Lake Hakkaku in Hokuso area, and Yoro Keikoku Valley in Minami Boso area.

Kamogawa Sea World www.kamogawa-seaworld.jp/english/

Nomizo Falls Stepping into the grounds of Nomizo Falls gives you the surreal feeling of entering a fantasy world portrayed in the popular animated film ‘Princess Mononoke’ created by Studio Ghibli. This beautiful waterfall has been uploaded on Instagram by hundreds of users due to its intriguing, mystical and otherworldly scenery. For over 350 years, it was only known among locals, but now many visitors, especially Instagrammers domestic and foreign, come to visit this place for photography and recreational activities.

Located in the southern area facing the Pacific Ocean is Kamogawa Sea World, a place to see exhibitions of both marine and river animals. The main concept of this theme park is “encountering the ocean world” with the belief that everyone should admire the beauty of marine and river life, as well as learn the importance of the sea ecosystem through exhibitions and performances. There are four shows scheduled every day and they are performed by dolphins, sea lions, belugas and even orcas, the star of Kamagowa Sea World. Other than that, visitors can get up close and personal with the animals through interactive activities such as guided discovery tours, animal feeding sessions, pelican parade through the park, and a fun hands-on educational facility to learn about the sea ecology. This is a place suitable for families, especially those with school-going children.

AMUSEMENT PARKS Mother Farm www.motherfarm.co.jp/en/

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This is a farm that has been transformed into an amusement park since 1962. It takes pride in its amazing farm shows featuring domesticated farm animals such as sheep, pigs, cows, horses, llama and even alpaca! Be sure to watch out for the cameos at the end of the shows. Not just that, travellers can bring their family to experience milking the cows, and petting guinea pigs and furry rabbits. This farm also offers strawberry-picking between January and May; and blueberry-picking between July and August. The students and I were lucky because we had the opportunity to pick strawberries. Savouring the taste of freshly picked strawberries was indeed a memorable experience. The strawberries grown here are sweet and delicious. Although it was raining quite heavily during our visit, we were told that visitors to Mother Farm would normally be able to enjoy the unforgettable sight of seasonal flowers covering the surface of Mount Kano almost throughout the year when the day is clear – petunias between May and October, rapeseed between February and April, salvia between September and October, and cosmos in October. Country Farm Tokyo German Village http://t-doitsumura.co.jp/ A German Village in Japan? Yes, you heard it right. Country Farm Tokyo German Village is yet another theme park in Japan, located in Sodegaura. The highlight of this theme park during our visit was Winter Illuminations, played from the middle of November until end of March. However, prior to the Winter Illuminations Show in the evening, travellers are recommended to come earlier to catch the sunset because the view is just amazing! Admission: JPY800 per adult, JPY1,000for parking, JPY400 per child (4 - 12 years old) Open: 9:30 to 17:00 (last entry 16:00)

Kamogawa Sea World is open every day from 9:00 a.m. until 5:00 p.m., depending on season. Check out the website for more details. The entrance fee is considered one of the cheapest compared to other amusement parks in Japan at only JPY2,800 (MYR110) per person.

Also check out: RESOL Seimei-no-Mori Tarzania in Hokuso area, and Tokyo Disney Resort in Urayasu City area.

CULTURE AND HERITAGE Narita-san Shinshoji Temple www.naritasan.or.jp/english/ This temple is located very near to Narita Airport. Visitors can use either the JR Line or the Keisei Line to get to Narita Station, and then take an eight-minute walk to the temple through the bustling Omotesando day market, where various merchandises and street food are sold. Narita-san Shinshoji Temple is famous in Japan, especially in Chiba. Its easy access from the airport and being synonymous with Kabuki were among the contributing factors to its popularity. It is usually packed with Buddhist worshippers and travellers from all over the world. There are five buildings inside this temple that have been designated as important cultural properties. It is a must to check out the Daihondo or Great Main Hall where people come to worship the Shakyamuni Buddha. Close to it is the Shakado Hall, which was built in 1858 and previously served as the original main hall before being moved to its current site to make way for the construction of the Great Main Hall. Travellers can also explore Komyodo Hall – built in 1701 to serve as the main hall before Shakado Hall – that now showcases middle Edo period artefacts, including Gakudo Hall next to it, where plaques and picture tablets from the Edo period are hanged and displayed. Travellers should then proceed to the Great Peace Pagoda for an amazing view of the temple grounds and the adjacent park.


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Orca performance at Kamogawa Sea World Shakado Hall, the original Great Main Hall before being relocated to make way for the construction of a larger Main Hall at Narita-san Shinshoji Temple Malaysian students all dressed up in kimono reliving nostalgic Japan along the Ono River Learning how to make sushi at Kamogawa Farm Home


Sawara www.suigo-sawara.ne.jp/abroad.html Sawara was previously known as Koedo (small Edo city) because it was a small bustling town founded upon opportunities that arose from river transportation along Tone River and Ono River. Today, this Japan Heritage Site is conserved to capture unique Edo atmosphere comprising shops and homes housed within historical buildings. Because of this, Sawara has also been listed in the Michelin Green Guide for its quaint atmosphere and effort in preserving heritage. We explored Sawara at a leisure pace along the Ono River to admire the townscape that seems to be perfectly trapped in time. We were also taken to see the Toyo Bridge, where water runs down from it every 30 minutes between 9:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m. The students had the opportunity to dress up in kimono and walk along the Ono River to relive the nostalgic experience of being transported back to Edo period. Other recommended activities in Sawara include boating along Ono River and cycling throughout the streets of Sawara. There are a lot of options for delicious food made locally that visitors can try. Sawara is also located 45 minutes by train from JR Narita Airport Terminal 1 Station so it is suitable for a short getaway from the airport. Take the JR train from the terminal, make an exchange at Narita Station and get down at Sawara Station. Also check out: Sakura City in Hokuso area, Choshi City, Chiba Prefectural Boso-no-Mura, Namikiri Fudo-in, Tateyama City Municipal Museum, and Daifukuji Temple in Minami Boso area.

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Kamogawa Farm Home One of the most important part of the student tour is experiencing local living at a private Farm House. The students were taken to Gorobe Farm House to experience ‘Dyeing with plant’ and ‘Making Chiba Sushi Roll’ for lunch. The students have been taken into detailed steps on how to dye a handkerchief using colours naturally derived from plants. But the best activity was making the sushi roll because they were not like any other sushi, but requires thorough and delicate steps to produce an artistic sushi rolls. The students went on to prepare two patterns, which are both flowers. The students were then taken on a tour around the house to see how traditional Japanese living looks like, especially the tatami flooring for sleeping ryokan-style and kotatsu, a low frame table covered by futon (heavy blanket) with a heat source underneath. At the end of the activities, we were served with sushi along with other dishes during lunch. Also check out: The festivals in Chiba Prefecture such as Sakura Tulip Fiesta in April, Narita Gion Festival in July, Summer Grand Festival of Sawara in July, Makuhari Beach Fireworks Fiesta in August, Ohara Festival in September, and Autumn Grand Festival of Sawara in October.

GAYA TRAVEL MAGAZINE RECOMMENDS: Eat in Chiba: Wakamatsu Honten (famous for traditional eel cuisine) in Narita Park, and Sawara Chiyofuku in Sawara. Shopping in Chiba: Mitsui Outlet Park Kisarazu, MEGA Don Quijote, and AEON Mall Makuharishintoshin Hotel in Chiba: Tokyo Bay Plaza Hotel in Kisarazu City, Hotel Mikazuki-Kamogawa in Kamogawa, and Hotel Port Plaza Chiba


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01. Puerto Princesa Underground River is renowned for its outstanding ecological value and significant natural preservation consisting of a magnificent underground river hidden beneath St Paul Mountain 02. The spectacular panorama of the majestic mountain and vast splendid sea await as you slide down along the zipline


Destinations

Experience Puerto Princesa with AirAsia TEXT|IMAGES by ED JUNAIDI

Last July 2016, I was privileged to be invited by AirAsia to discover Puerto Princesa together with several other Malaysian media representatives. It took us about five hours of flying in total from Kuala Lumpur to Puerto Princesa via Manila. AirAsia flies five times daily between Manila and Puerto Princesa.

Some notes on travelling to Puerto Princesa from Kuala Lumpur: » Duration of the flight from Kuala Lumpur to Manila is 3 hours 55 minutes, while from Manila to Puerto Princesa will be another 1 hour 20 minutes » Upon arrival at Manila, travellers need to transit to Terminal 4 via shuttle bus to catch the flight to Puerto Princesa » Timing in Puerto Princesa is the same as Kuala Lumpur (GMT+8) » Peso is the currency of Philippines, you are advised to change your currency in KL before travelling to enjoy the best possible rates

As we walked off the arrival gate, we could feel the fresh air of Palawan. Aptly called the gateway to Palawan, the City of Puerto Princesa is rated as the Philippines’ cleanest and greenest city, welcoming travellers near and far with the promise of fascinating mixture of cultures and thrilling adventures. This city is internationally recognised for its UNESCO heritage site, ecotourism, environmental excellence and as one of the New 7 Wonders of Nature. Although it is the least densely populated city in the Philippines, it still offers great restaurants, stunning countryside, a good number of tour packages, island-hopping trips, and several cultural centres. Tips: According to the City Tourism Department, the best time to come to Palawan is March and April. Rainy season begins in June and usually followed by heavy monsoon.

The highlight of my trip was the majestic Puerto Princesa Underground River, marking yet another UNESCO World Heritage Site in my wanderlust checklist. It is also listed as the World New 7 Wonders of Nature. It took about two hours by bus from the city to Sabang, which is the access to the Puerto Princesa Underground River. For travellers who have a thirst for unique natural formations like me, I was fascinated by the lime rock formations and the great flocks of birds and colonies of bats flying in every direction throughout the 25-minute journey exploring the cave by boat. To maintain the biodiversity and ecology of the site, boats with roaring engines are not allowed. We were taken on a cruising boat, paddled by a paddler who happened to be the guide as well. To ensure that travellers are able to enjoy the cave in silence, they are given an audio device with preset commentary for them to listen individually.

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Tips: » Tours to the Underground River may be cancelled any day due to fortuitous events or extreme weather conditions. » The Park Management strictly enforces No Permit, No Entry policy. Therefore, travellers must ensure that they have secured a Visitor Entry Permit before entering the Park.

The cave system is actually 24 kilometres long, while the river runs for 8.2 kilometres, said to be the longest navigable underground river in the world. Also known as the Puerto Princesa Subterranean River, it is situated in a national park where more than 800 plant species were found.

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Before leaving back to the city, the boat took us to Sabang beach where another excitement awaited us. Sabang is a quiet fishing village with literally nothing much to do except for swimming in the clear blue water by the beach and the adrenaline-pumping extreme sport – Sabang X Zipline. There are several other activities that you can choose to do like exploring the mangrove forest, getting soaked into Sabang Falls, and Ugong rock climbing. Sabang X Zipline takes about two minutes to cross 800m above seawater to the end station that offers amazing panoramic view. If travellers were to turn and sway along the zipline, they get to enjoy the view of the mountains and the forests, or the vast view of the splendid sea. If you’re planning to stay a night in Sabang, or get a mouthful delicious lunch, I totally recommend Daluyon Beach & Mountain Resort. It is located right by the Sabang beach and have access to the Sabang X Zipline, mangrove forest tour, and the Underground River located 10 minutes away by car. This resort is suitable for honeymooners and families to indulge in authentic Palawan hospitality through its room amenities, restaurants and bars while experiencing laidback and unhurried lifestyle. The next day, I took a heritage tour for which the first destination was the Palawan Heritage Centre, located right in the heart of the City of Puerto Princesa. This museum is

where travellers can learn a lot about Palawan and its history, especially the Tabon Cave Complex, one of the Philippines’ important archaeological sites. There are also details about the Tabon Man found in the Tabon Cave, which is the remains of the oldest homo sapien in Southeast Asia dating more than 40,000 years ago. The city heritage tour then took me to Butterfly Eco Garden and Tribal Village in Santa Monica village. Although it offers exhibitions of various species of butterflies and the butterfly lifecycle, what attracted me was the Tribal Village that exhibits real living people of Palaw’an, one of the many indigenous people of Palawan island. The people of Palaw’an actually live in the mountainous rainforest and has been living in Palawan for thousands of years. Like many other tribes exposed to civilisation, the younger generations have adapted to modern life. To preserve the culture, the Tribal Village offers free place to stay for the native people in exchange of cultural sharing. As such, the Tribal Village offers interactive cultural shows to the visitors. My last night in Puerto Princesa was spent cruising along the Iwahig River to watch fireflies. During my last trip in Bohol, I had to paddle the canoe myself; here in Puerto Princesa, someone else paddles the two-passenger canoe for me. The tour took me through the thickness of the night along the 10-metre wide river. The tour lasts about 30 minutes, offering the chance to witness the great sight fireflies blinking rhythmically like Christmas tree in the middle of the pitch-black night. The guide also shown us the nocturnal animals found along the river such as insects and small animals that lurked among tree branches and riverbanks. While in Puerto Princesa, I stayed at Hotel Fleuris, less than 10 minutes away from the airport. Though located in the middle of the city, the hotel is about the same distance to most of Palawan’s attractions. The hotel provides charming Palawan hospitality from its service, admirable interiors and modern facilities. Gaya Travel extends our heartfelt gratitude to AirAsia and Puerto Princesa’s City Tourism Department of the Office of the City Mayor for making Ed’s trip to Puerto Princesa possible.


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03. Travellers get to meet the people of Palaw’an at the Butterfly Eco Garden and Tribal Village 04. The river - where the exploration into Sabang mangrove forest begins - is 10 minutes away from Daluyon Beach and Mountain Resort


Destinations

I Feel Krabi TEXT by FADHLI ROZAINOOR, FURQAAN HOD & KHAIRUL AKIL|IMAGES by FADHLI ROZAINOOR, AMIERAH NOOR & KHAIRUL AKIL

Krabi needs no introduction as it is one of the most visited places in Thailand and famous due to the fact that the islands seem to erupt vertically out of the sea. It is around 820 kilometres from Bangkok and those who gets tired of Phuket are recommended to head here instead.

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Krabi is located in the southwest of Thailand, facing the Andaman Sea and covering an area of 4,700 square kilometres. What makes Krabi special? Besides the blue sky and crystal clear sea water, Krabi’s beautiful landscape includes limestone peaks, mangrove forests, mountains, untouched natural waterfalls and hot springs, including 83 islands that are rich in folklore, out of which only 13 are inhabited, making it ideal for water activities such as snorkelling, diving and kayaking, while its limestone caves attract climbers from all over the world. The population largely comprises Buddhists and Muslims, the latter being the majority. As such, Krabi boasts restaurants and eateries that largely serve halal food. They would also come with halal signages, making it easier for Muslims to spot them and consume with peace of mind. However, some hotels do not put up halal signages as they also serve alcohol, yet the food served remains halal. It is best for travellers to check first on the status of the food first prior to ordering to avoid confusion. Tips: » The best time to snorkel is late February to June, so underwater enthusiasts might want to visit Krabi during that time » Do research on the cheapest island hopping packages along the Ao Nang Street as soon as arrive in Krabi » Prepare some motion sickness pills » Bring waterproof bags (dry bags) to keep your valuable things – waterproof casing for camera/ smartphone is A MUST. It is best if you have waterproof camera

What to do? Frolic around Ao Nang Ao Nang is Krabi’s centre for water-based activities with friendly nightlife that begins from 9:00 p.m. to 5:00 a.m., but not as boisterous compared to Phuket and Koh Samui. There are many types of lodgings, ranging from five-star hotels to backpacker hostels, which can be seen in the area, including various shops that sell almost everything such as swim suits, souvenirs and local products. Dinner in Ao Nang ranges from pizza to sushi. For Muslims, halal food is abound, especially the spicy tomyam and banana pancake, which is similar to roti

canai in Malaysia, except that it is cooked together with slices of banana, Nutella and various other flavours. The locals peddle their food in the evening during weekdays but start much earlier during weekends. Besides food, in Ao Nang, travellers will also be able to find island-hopping packages, including services that offer extreme sports activities such as rock-climbing, extreme ATV sports, kayak and scuba-diving, great for outdoor lovers and extreme sports enthusiasts. One more must-do activity is to savour value-for-money Thai reflexology and massage that will leave travellers relaxed and invigorated.


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Local lady doing batik-painting at Koh Klang Kayaking along Thar Phiring River while taking in the amazing view of limsetone karsts is a must for nature lovers Buddha altar at The Tiger Cave Temple Splashing into the waters of Chicken Island during island-hopping


Tips: » »

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Taking photographs of the transvestite cabaret performers that throng the Ao Nang area might cost travellers money, so be mindful when taking their pictures. Also be careful of pickpockets. From Krabi town to Ao Nang, it costs 50 Baht per person by songthaew, more or less similar to the jeepney in Manila. From Ao Nang to the airport, it costs 500 Baht per taxi ride but it costs more from the airport to Ao Nang.

Visit the famous Wat Tham Suea, Tiger Cave Temple Located 45 minutes’ drive away from Ao Nang, Wat Tham Suea is one of the most sacred Buddhist sites in the province, famous for the tiger paw prints in the cave, tall Buddha statues and the strenuous flight of stairs to reach the summit. This temple is open to Buddhists and general public. There are currently 20 to 30 monks – not only from Thailand but also from other parts of the world – who reside and meditate in the temple. Legend has it that back in 1975, a monk named Jumnean Seelasettho went to meditate under the cave and encountered tigers roaming around the area, giving birth to the name Wat Tham Suea or The Tiger Cave Temple. It is said that the site of the temple, called Tiger Cave, is thought to be a tiger’s lair, or at least used to be one. Locals said that they used to hear the sound of tiger roar when they went hunting. Mysteriously, no one has ever seen any tiger! Tip: Travellers should climb up Wat Tham Suea’s 1,237 steps to get to the top – which might take up to an hour – and admire the priceless view of Krabi from there while being accompanied by a huge golden Buddha statue. Wear comfortable sports attire and backpack filled with mineral water and snacks. Remove any jewellery and valuable items, including shades, since they can be easily snatched by naughty stray monkeys. Best to visit early morning for better photography.

Island-hopping Make your trip remarkable by getting the chance to visit the islands off coast Ao Nang and hear astounding stories about them such as the Chicken Island (because of a rock that looked like the head of a chicken) that is believed to come from a princess who was cursed into one gigantic island with thousands of rock formations that look like male genitals. The island hopping package starts early, preferably in the morning. Travellers can choose to ride in traditional long tail boat or the modern speed boat. The latter takes up to 30 minutes to reach the islands while the former usually takes

longer but offers extra time for travellers to enjoy the ride! The package includes visiting several islands, snorkelling gear, drinking water, fruits and lunch pack. It is a good experience to snorkel around the islands because the water is clear. Some of the islands that travellers might be taken to are Muko Phi Phi (where the movie called The Beach starring Leonardo de Caprio was filmed), Chicken Island, Poda Island, Maya Island and Tup Island. We were told that during low tide, travellers are able to walk across between some of the islands. The cheapest rate is around 1,200 Baht (RM120) per person. Travel by speedboat is more expensive. Seek local experiences To experience local lifestyle, head to Koh Klang, accessible only by longboat. Travellers can either take the long boat from Chaofa Pier (centre of Krabi Town) or Tara Pier (South of Krabi Town) and the crossings takes less than 15 minutes. Koh Klang is a tiny Muslim fishing village at the mouth of Krabi River that flows into the Andaman Sea with 98% of Muslims and only 2% Buddhist inhabitants. Since the island is very small, locals use motorbikes and small tuk-tuks as mode of transport. Travellers can witness old ladies painting batik, old men making traditional long boats and teenagers running around to reach in time for the weekly bird beauty contest. To Malaysians, they might find that the village pretty much resembles those in Terengganu. The lifestyle of the residents is modest and simple: they chat on the street, have coffee with neighbours and meet friends at the Sunday market. They welcome foreigners with a warm smile and genuine “sawadee khap / kha” (which means “hello”). Quaint and peaceful, Koh Klang is definitely the right place to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city. Enjoy eco-activities Travellers are recommended to proceed to Ban Bor Thor, a small village about 40-minute bus ride from Krabi and Ao Nang. Famous for its kayaking activity, this village is set in the National Park consisting of complex system of the Thar Phiring River and limestone caves. This wonderful and healthy retreat requires travellers to spend two hours and a half paddling along the narrow channels of Thar Phiring River whilst taking in the pristine tropical nature. If travellers were to think that the experience of paddling along the river is amazing, wait till they explore the limestone caves, accessible only by kayaking. Going through these caves is a must. Tham Lot is a tunnel right under the cliffs, shimmering with reflections of the water from natural light and replete with stalactites and stalagmites. A cave by the name of Tham Pee Hua Toh is decorated with invaluable cave paintings believed to be thousands of years old. Another cave worth exploring is the Tham Lot Nua. The echoing sound of dripping water in the caves exudes an eerie yet soothing feeling as travellers continue paddling. For more information browse www.tourismthailand.org/ About-Thailand/Destination/Krabi


Destinations

Lullabied by Luang Prabang TEXT by JUHAN KAMARUDDIN|IMAGES by AIRASIA

Gaya Travel Magazine, together with a selected number of media members, had the opportunity to explore Luang Prabang, courtesy of AirAsia, in conjunction with the airline’s inaugural flight to the town from Kuala Lumpur on 21 November 2016. Though it was supposed to be AirAsia’s maiden flight serving the sector from Kuala Lumpur, the flight’s load was already over 90%, indicating that travellers have strong interest towards the destination.

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AirAsia’s decision to fly direct from Kuala Lumpur to Luang Prabang is timely. Through its hubs in Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia, the airline has one of the most extensive aviation networks in Asia, particularly South East Asia, further whetting ASEAN travellers’ appetite to visit the neighbouring countries affordably. The connection between both cities are expected to boost tourist arrivals not just from Malaysia and Laos but also from around Asia and Australasia. AirAsia’s contribution in boosting intra-regional tourism is undeniably immense. Luang Prabang is a sizeable town that is yet to achieve city status, located in northern Laos, a region that is mountainous. Luang Prabang refers to ‘Royal Buddha Image’ (luang means ‘royal’ while prabang means ‘sacred Buddha image’). Situated 700 metres above sea level, the town feels cool (a boon in the tropical climate) during early morning and night. Due to its French Indochine flair, Luang Prabang is ideal for professionals, architecture and colonial heritage enthusiasts, epicureans, culture buffs, culinary connoisseurs, natural landscape lovers and fans of textiles and fabrics.

When to visit Though Laos is categorised as tropical, the town experiences cooler weather during the northern hemisphere winter months, especially at night, when the temperature goes down to below 15° Celsius. On average, August is the wettest month, while April is the hottest. Luang Prabang’s peak period (when accommodation rates are at their highest) is November to March.

I love Luang Prabang for its village-like, intimate, communal vibe and nostalgic allure, in large part due to the two-storey height restriction on the buildings situated within the historic area. It is also a compact town with an airport located only five to seven minutes away from the centre. All travellers – architecture enthusiasts or not – should take time admiring the Lao and colonial French architecture throughout Luang Prabang’s UNESCO World Heritage area while taking in the town’s old world charm. The town is generally safe with no beggars or thieves, or at least I did not encounter any during my visit last November 2016. Toilets are also clean. Those who need to cleanse with water after answering the call of nature will be happy to know that the commodes in Luang Prabang generally come together with a hose next to them to facilitate washing.


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A beautifully ornate engraved carving at Wat Visounnarath Devotees handing out alms to the monks who walk in a long line - likened to a procession - early morning Sunset over Luang Prabang that can be viewed from the top of Mount Phou Si


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The gorgeous Kuang Si Waterfall, located 30 kilometres away from Luang Prabang town centre The altar at one of the Pak Ou Caves, a stop along the Mekong River cruise by Nava Mekong Foreign travellers learning to weave silk fabric under the supervision of local experts at Ock Pop Tock’s The Living Crafts Centre Preparing natural dyes from local roots and wood, which are cut or pounded, then boiled together with silk to give it colour at Ock Pop Tock


Luang Prabang is a destination where you wake up early and go to bed early. Besides, bars and pubs in the city are required to close by midnight, making it hardly a nightlife hotspot. Travellers might initially find the destination sleepier than expected despite its international repute. Mornings at the centre of Luang Prabang is tranquil, unhurried and lazy that travellers could even lose the sense of time and urgency. The destination noticeably invites travellers not to rush and instead appreciate its peaceful atmosphere and natural surroundings. This invitation to slow down allows travellers to listen to their own inner voices that yearn for peace. We were informed that the Luang Prabang town centre – defined to be the area located at the foothills of Mount Phou Si and close to the Night Market – has the population of around 28,000, while the population for the whole of Luang Prabang province is approximately 450,000. It is recommended that travellers base themselves within the town centre to take in most of what Luang Prabang offers. Like what people often do in World Heritage towns, travellers should take time in traversing the town’s roads, side streets, alleys, nooks and crannies to understand more about the place and appreciate the distinctive Laotian and French colonial architectural heritage, including its bucolic atmosphere. Many parts of Luang Prabang’s centre follows the grid system, so it is easy for pedestrians and travellers who love walking find their way around town. No doubt, the area within the World Heritage zone is indeed touristy – as with the other World Heritage destinations – but it remains charming and hardly feel crowded despite the thronging international tourists. When it comes to Luang Prabang, travellers should not make the mistake of thinking that the locals are naïve and innocent – they have been receiving many European and American travellers over years (and now more from Asia), thus their outlook are more commercial. International tourists are seen as opportunities for them to make more money, made evident from the amount of money travellers end up spending when vacationing in Luang Prabang. Holders of the Malaysian Ringgit (MYR) need to understand that Luang Prabang is NOT the place where you scrimp and go on a shoestring budget – those who try to do so will be hard-pressed. As a matter of fact, food, accommodation and transport in Luang Prabang is notably pricier compared to Vientiane and the rest of Indochina despite the destination’s third world status. These exorbitant prices are allegedly contributed by the high rental rates (up to USD5,000 per month) imposed onto tenants by the owners of the heritage edifices such as shophouses and villas within the town, consequently driving up costs for food and beverages (travellers are recommended to set aside at least USD10 or MYR45 per person per meal, unless they prefer to eat local), including accommodation.

Tip: It is better for travellers to make hotel payments upfront by booking online. The price of a room at a decent guesthouse located at the centre of Luang Prabang for walk-in guests (those who do not make prior booking) is originally at USD30 per night; this could simply jump up to USD45 per night at the whim of the guesthouse operator. For a more enriching experience, travellers are recommended to stay at a stylish boutique accommodation that may start at the rate of USD70 per night, depending on season and availability.

The prices of coffee and desserts at Luang Prabang’s atmospheric cafes and hip restaurants are as high as those in Kuala Lumpur. One cup of masala tea is between LAK10,000 (around MYR5.50) and LAK15,000 (MYR8), while plain naan costs LAK10,000. A smoothie also costs LAK10,000, a plateful of cut tropical fruits LAK15,000, and each tuk tuk ride sets travellers back between LAK40,000 (MYR22) to LAK50,000 (MYR27). To cut down dependence on tuk tuk, travellers can rent motorcycle from reliable rental companies (which might charge up to LAK160,000 or MYR90 per day) so that they would be able to explore the town’s roads and alleyways, including the outskirts. Travellers who are good in haggling and bargaining are welcome to use their skills when making purchases at the Night Market (prices of locally woven fabrics and crafts can be reasonable, by the way). If they are not careful, travellers will find their money flowing out easily like water from an open tap. It is wise for travellers to bring extra cash, just in case. Tip: Bring hard currency like the Unites States Dollars (USD) or Euros (EUR). Do not change them into Lao Kip (LAK) all at one go but change them into portions: a small amount at first when travellers reach Luang Prabang international airport, then at the other money changers scattered around Luang Prabang town centre for better rates.

But after looking at the local economy, we begin to understand why the costs are high: besides the high rental rates, the Laotian economy is not yet diversified and heavily dependent on only agriculture, beer, coffee, handicrafts and tourism, with manufacturing mostly concentrated in the country’s capital, Vientiane. Halal meat in Luang Prabang needs to be transported from Thailand or Vientiane, involving additional expenditure. Laos does not have oil and gas, therefore it needs to import fuel from neighbouring countries. The form of energy that it has in surplus is only hydroelectricity, largely exported to Thailand, followed by Vietnam and soon Myanmar. Travellers should not be surprised when power outages occur during their visit (we learned that power outages are more common during hot and rainy seasons).

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After all points considered, travellers should not leave out Luang Prabang from their bucket list just because of high prices. By visiting the destination, they are bound to be lullabied by Luang Prabang’s well-conserved heritage, exotic culture, rich history, deep faith, laidback lifestyle, immersive serenity and natural beauty, all of which far outweigh any kind of price…

What to experience:

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Visit the various Buddhist temples Being part of the pre-dominantly Buddhist Indochina, Luang Prabang is replete with ornately gilded temples such as Wat Mai (formerly the temple for the royal family before the Prabang Buddha temple was built on the grounds of the new royal palace that is now the National Museum); Wat Sensoukharam (‘Temple of Happiness’ that houses Luang Prabang’s tallest Buddha); Wat Xieng Thong (considered the prettiest and an important reference to Buddhist architecture that was completed back in around 1560); Wat Visounnarath (the oldest temple completed in 1515, incorporating design elements similar to Angkor and used to house the Prabang Buddha); and Wat Ho Pha Bang (the Prabang Buddha temple on the grounds of that served as the last temple for the royal family, also home to the most sacred Buddha image believed to be from Sri Lanka 2,000 years ago). Visit the Royal Palace Museum This museum was constructed by the French in Beaux Arts style for the use of the Luang Prabang royal family since 1904 in conjunction with the ascension of Sisavang Vong as the King of Luang Prabang (reigned from 1904-1946), then as King of Laos beginning 1945. It offers the glimpse of how life was like for the royal family during the French colonial period. Be sure to catch the quintessential frescoes that depict Luang Prabang typical life back then on the walls of the reception room painted in 1930 by female French painter Alix de Fautereau, who later assumed the name Alix Ayme after she remarried.

Climb up Mount Phou Si To get their bearings, travellers are encouraged to climb up Mount Phou Si on the first day to understand Luang Prabang’s topography and the locations or directions of the places they intend to visit. This is also one of the best places in Luang Prabang for travellers to catch the beautiful sunset. Catch the procession of the monks at dawn One local scene that is unique to Luang Prabang is the procession of the monks taking alms from devotees who kneel or sit by the roadside. Since this is a solemn and religious affair, travellers need to keep their distance away from the monks if they are not participating in the alms-giving. They also should not intrude the procession and use flash when taking photos of the procession. Travellers should find themselves a comfortable spot to observe the procession while the monks receive alms from the devotees. Take the Nava Cruise along the Mekong River (navamekong.com) Taking the cruise along Mekong allows travellers to witness life along the river, besides visiting Xang Hai Village to learn how Lao whiskey is produced and Pak Ou caves (locals called Tam Ting) where thousands of Buddha statues are placed by worshippers as reverence. The Mekong River is at its highest level in September due to rain (rainy season is from June to early October). The whole cruise, which also includes lunch on board, takes around four hours to complete. Travellers are bound to find the cruise relaxing and enlightening at the same time. Learn the art of weaving and dyeing Lao silk at Ock Pop Tok (www.ockpoptok.com) Founded in 2000 by Englishwoman Joanna Smith and Laotian Veomanee Douangdala, Ock Pop Tok (which means ‘East Meets West’), is now one of Laos’ textile and artisan institutions that strive to conserve, innovate and propagate the Laotian textile weaving heritage. Traditionally, Lao women need to learn

how to weave to get married. The Ock Pop Tok project helps to popularise and conserve the Lao silk weaving craft by employing and training 400 women in 11 provinces across the country, providing them income at the same time. It engages and empowers women who are expert weavers to create incredibly beautiful woven textiles and having them marketed and retailed professionally through Ock Pop Tok’s Boutique and Heritage Shops close to 3 Nagas at the centre of Luang Prabang. For an educational and uniquely Lao experience, we recommend that travellers join Ock Pop Tok’s half-day natural dyes or weaving classes at The Living Crafts Centre to try their hands-on dyeing and weaving Lao silk under the guidance of expert dyers and weavers. Travellers should also have lunch at the chic Silk Road Café, also within The Living Crafts Centre, which overlooks the tranquil Mekong River. Visit Luang Prabang Elephant Camp (luangprabangelephantcamp.com) During ancient times, Luang Prabang used to be called the ‘Kingdom of a Million Elephants’ since historically these animals have been crucial in transporting goods and humans. Today however, many are now abused, starved, and overworked at the logging camps. To rescue these elephants, a successful Lao businessman Mr. Sisombat Douangvilaykeo founded the Luang Prabang Elephant Camp to restore the dignity of these poor creatures by feeding, taking care and training them to recognise their mahouts’ call. Travellers can get the chance to bathe these elephants, besides admiring their majesty, when they visit the camp. Visit Kuang Si Waterfall Travellers’ Luang Prabang experience of is not complete without visiting the gorgeous three-tier cascading Kuang Si Waterfall, located 30 kilometres south of town. The waterfall is surrounded by wonderfully lush greenery and the water is collected in turquoise travertine pools that travellers can swim in. Travellers who come between March to May should take note that there is less water flowing that time due to dry season.


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Other experiences that travellers can relish when being in Luang Prabang: » If possible, observe or join in a Bachi welcoming ceremony to experience Lao filial piety since it involves village elders bestowing blessings to travellers. » Learn about how Laos endured heavy bombing by the United States of America during the Vietnam War, making it the most bombed country per capita in the world, including the dangers that Laotians face until today when they unexpectedly encounter unexploded cluster bombs or ammunitions that are still prevalent throughout the country at the UXO Lao Visitor Centre. www.uxolao.org » Avid golfers can tee off surrounded by amazing northern Lao landscapes at the 18-hole Luang Prabang Golf Club, which has been operating since 2011. Golfers will be truly amazed by the scenery at the golf club’s 17th Hole. www.luangprabanggolfclub.com » Visit the Talad Tha Hua May (Morning Market) to witness and even taste interesting local produce and incredibly unique delicacies. » Shop local handicrafts at bargained prices at Phanom Handicraft Centre in Ban Phanom. » Zipline through the Green Jungle Park using Green Jungle Flight and enjoy Hoi Khua Waterfall afterwards. www.laogreengroup.com/p/greenjungleflight.html# » Loiter and shop at the Night Market. » Dine at the atmospheric cafes and restaurants around Luang Prabang.

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Those who seek halal certified restaurants in Luang Prabang may check out the following establishments: Chennai Restaurant Xieng Muan Village, Khem Khong Tel: +856 20 5518 0477 / +856 20 9574 6407 Email: laoman73@gmail.com Nisha Restaurant Kitsalat Road Tel: +856 20 9826 6023 / +856 071 900 116

AirAsia now flies four times weekly (Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Sunday) to Luang Prabang from Kuala Lumpur (KLIA2). Visit www.airasia.com to book a flight to Luang Prabang today. For ground handling, travellers may browse www.louangprabang. net for info and arrangements.

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Bathing the pachyderms at Luang Prabang Elephant Camp Some of the items on sale at the Morning Market


Destinations

Joyful Jakarta Jaunt TEXT|IMAGES by FURQAAN HOD

EMBASSY OF THE REPUBLIC OF INDONESIA KUALA LUMPUR

As part of #EnjoyJakarta promotional efforts, Gaya Travel Magazine was invited by the Embassy of the Republic of Indonesia (Kuala Lumpur) and the Jakarta City Government Tourism & Culture Office to experience Jakarta in November 2016. This bustling metropolis – being the capital and largest city to a country with the largest economy in Southeast Asia that creates employment opportunity to millions of people – continues to flourish as a tourism hotspot, especially in anticipation of the completion of its new airport, scheduled to be ready by 2017, and the mass rapid transit systems, slated for completion by mid-2018.

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The following are the places that travellers can choose to explore when being in this sprawling megacity:

West Jakarta Kota Tua Jakarta ( Jakarta Old Town) is a popular meeting point. It is a historic place developed during the Dutch period, whereby most of its buildings are among the oldest in Jakarta. Travellers may ride colourful bicycles with matching floppy hats around the square and taste the street food called Kerak Telur (fried egg with rice) and Es Selengang Mayang (iced fruits mixed with syrup and milk). Travellers can also find awesome street performances and buskers along the area. Travellers should also take time to visit the museums located around Kota Tua such as Museum Wayang (Puppet Museum) to understand how integral puppeteering has been to Indonesian storytelling; Museum Sejarah Jakarta ( Jakarta History Museum), housed in a former town hall with almost 90 percent of its original structure still intact; and Fine Art & Ceramic Museum, formerly an Indonesian military dormitory but now become the venue to display traditional Indonesian handicrafts.

Most of the museums open daily from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. (closed on Mondays) and the entrance fee is IDR5,000 per adult. Travellers can catch the puppet show performed on Sundays. GPS: 6.134769, 106.813796

North Jakarta Museum Bahari (Maritime Museum) is located at Sunda Kelapa harbour, showcasing Indonesia’s maritime history and the significance of the sea to the nation’s economy. The museum exhibits actual historical boat, replicas and dioramas relating to the maritime. The legends of maritime history such as the Flying Dutchman, The Voyage of Cheng Ho and more are also displayed at the museum. Since the building is constructed in the 16th century, the architectural design is unique and solid. The museum also installs a tide gauge within the museum for the public to learn about Sunda Kelapa’s current tidal level. Open daily from 8.00 am to 4.00 pm (closed on Mondays) GPS: 6.127328, 106.809655


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01. Colourful ontel (old bicycles) with matching floppy hats can be hired as cheap as IDR20,000 per hour for cycling around Kota Tua 02. The must-try street food called kerak telur costs IDR25,000 per plate 03. Indonesian shadow puppet characters on display at Museum Wayang 04. Mannequin representing British Royal Navy officer Captain Lieutenant William Bligh who made the remarkable voyage to Timor-Leste


Taman Impian Jaya Ancol (Ancol Dreamland) is the largest theme park in Indonesia covering 552 hectares that includes Dunia Fantasi (Fantasy World), Ocean Dream Samudra, Atlantis Water Adventure, Ocean Ecopark, Seaworld, Alive Museum, among others. One day is not enough to cover this park in its entirety. I managed to cover two parks: Dunia Fantasi, Jakarta’s own theme park complete with 30 awesome rides and attractions, especially the Hysteria ride) and SeaWorld Ancol, (comprising almost 200 different types of marine species, similar to the scene in the movie Finding Dory with touch pools and huge tunnel aquariums. Should you be interested to cover the whole park, there is a free transportation service from the park to nearby hotels such as Putri Duyung Cottage, Raddin Hotel and Mercure Hotel. Opens daily from 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. Kindly refer to www.ancol. com for pricing ticket. GPS: 6.124925, 106.838221

East Jakarta Taman Mini Indonesia Indah (Beautiful Indonesia Miniature Park) is a 150-hectare Indonesian cultural park. The word ‘miniature’ is a misnomer – this park actually exhibits the various cultures, nature and heritage from the sprawling country’s 34 provinces. To cover the park, you can either travel by your own car, rent a bike or ride a cable car to have bird’s-eye view of the huge man-made lake with islands in the middle that represents the Indonesia archipelago. The pavilions of the real-size traditional houses is a must visit. Each pavilion carries its own unique identity and cultural history, including souvenirs that travellers can purchase. Opens daily from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. and entrance fee of IDR9,000, extra charges for those who wish to rent a bicycle or ride a cable car. GPS: 6.302432, 106.895501

Central Jakarta Textile Museum is the place where travellers can learn about batik creation and its interesting history – batik is indeed the pride of Indonesia. Travellers can also participate in the batik-making process that involves mencanting (wax-tracing), framing, colouring and final wash. Interesting courses and training are also here for the public to obtain hands-on experience in producing the elegant Indonesian batik. Thamrin City Shopping Centre is the place for travellers to have purchase colourful batik attire and fabrics for own use

or to be given away as souvenirs. Opens daily from 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. (closed on Mondays) GPS: 6.187981, 106.810162

Where to Stay? Considered as among the most established and the choice for the well heeled, Mandarin Oriental Jakarta offers stunningly sumptuous rooms with five-star service to match. Amenities available are its acclaimed food and beverage outlets namely Lyon, Li Feng and Cinnamon; outdoor pool with Azure bar; fitness centre; and spa equipped with saunas and massage treatments. A free shuttle service is also provided to the nearest Grand Indonesia and Plaza Indonesia, located close to the hotel.

Where to Eat? Bunga Rampai Travellers can savour authentic Indonesian gastronomic fare in a beautifully decorated colonial house. The restaurant’s chicken and beef sate manis (sweet satay) are truly delightful, which come together with the lunch set menu. Opens daily from 11:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. GPS: 6.198323, 106.844343

Penang Bistro It is indeed an interesting experience to taste Malaysian food prepared and served in a different country. This restaurant serves roti canai with beef curry, including Malaysia’s favourite beverage teh tarik. Opens daily from 10.30 am to 10.00 pm GPS: 6.181084, 106.832670

Café Batavia Travellers will be wowed by this dining establishment serving marvellous western food such as the mouth-watering and fresh classic Caesar salad amidst 19th century colonial-inspired ambience set in a 200-year-old building. Travellers should use or at least take a peek at its interesting toilet embellished with nostalgic posters and images. There is also live band performance on late evenings. Opens weekdays from 8:00 a.m. to 12:00 midnight and until 1:00 a.m. during weekends GPS: 6.134443, 106.813289

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A huge cylindrical aquarium at SeaWorld welcomes travellers after passing through the entrance The South Sulawesi pavilion at Taman Mini Malaysia Indah showcasing homes of the Bugis people in Makassar Students trying their hands at batik-making Colourful male batik shirts on sale at Thamrin City Shopping Centre Bird’s eye view of Mandarin Oriental, situated in the centre of Jakarta


Bandar Djakarta Seaside Seafood Restaurant Macet (which refers to traffic congestion) is not only happening on the streets but also in this restaurant, which serves fresh live seafood where travellers can select and have it cooked instantly! The restaurant’s avocado smoothie is also a must try. Opens daily from 11:00 a.m. to 11:30 p.m. GPS: 6.122045, 106.851167

Marina Batavia A tremendous view of seashore filled with huge Quicksilver boats, this restaurant serves Indonesian Chinese and Western fare. Ikan Saus Bangkok (deep fried fish with sweet and sour sauce) is recommended due to its delicious combination of Indonesian, Chinese and Thai flavours.

Travelling Tips: » Plan your schedule ahead according to each region that you would like to visit because Jakarta’s traffic congestion is super massive during weekdays. » Kindly refer to #infocarfreeday to find out about the road closures in central Jakarta from 6:00 a.m. to 11:00 a.m. on Sundays, which could affect vehicle access if travellers were to be located in the area involved. » On the fourth quarter of the year, Indonesia, especially Jakarta, receives heavy rain in the evenings (from 4:00 p.m. until 8:00 p.m.). If travellers wish to do outdoor activity, best to start their day early and do not forget to bring umbrellas!

Opens daily from 10:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. GPS: 6.120120, 106.813303

The Cloud Lounge & Dining Located at the Plaza Tower mall, this restaurant is popular among locals for its rooftop lounge, especially among the Gen-Y due to its vibrant night scene and spectacular view of Central Jakarta from the 49th floor. Travellers are recommended to try the restaurant’s grilled salmon with zucchini, avocado and saffron sauce. Opens daily from 4:00 p.m. to 3:00 a.m. GPS: 6.192937, 106.822733

Shanghai Blue 1920 Astonished by its unique traditional interior décor, this restaurant serves tasty Chinese and Indonesian food infused with Dutch signature. Among the must-try dishes are Kuo Tie Tiga Macam (vegetables, shrimp and chicken with deep fried filling) and Daging Masak Ngo Hiang, to be enjoyed with a variety of sambal (spicy condiment) like bajak and trasi. Opens daily from 11:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. GPS: 6.183259, 106.825277

Gaya Travel Magazine extends
our gratitude to Embassy of the Republic of Indonesia and Jakarta City Government Tourism & Culture Office for this wonderful trip.

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A local couple preparing to pose for a pre-wedding shot at the gorgeous Korakuen Garden in Okayama City


Destinations

Congenial Okayama TEXT|IMAGES by JUHAN KAMARUDDIN

Upon invitation by a leading Malaysian travel agency Corporate Information Travel Sdn. Bhd. (www.cit.travel) and Okayama Prefecture (www.okayamajapan.jp/en/), Gaya Travel Magazine discovers that Okayama is a destination that is gracious, brimming with potential and friendly towards travellers, especially South East Asian Muslims. To capture a share of the lucrative Muslim market, Okayama tourism owners and operators has begun providing facilities for Muslim travellers to meet their demands while travelling such as prayer rooms and qibla compass, halal-certified restaurants and Muslim-friendly cuisine. The prefecture is set to become one of the hottest destinations among Muslim travellers to Japan due to its safe and secure location, healthy gastronomic offerings, panoramic landscapes and quintessential Japanese hospitality. However, this does not mean that non-Muslim travellers are neglected - on the contrary, they get the best chance to totally immerse in what Okayama has to offer and entirely savour its delights. Being a transport hub, all shinkansen (bullet trains) stop at Okayama; it is only 35 minutes to Osaka and Hiroshima, an hour to Kyoto and an hour to Shikoku island. Renowned as Hare-no-Kuni (Land of Sunshine), Okayama is considered as the sunniest destination in Japan because it receives the least rain. Since Okayama has relatively milder climate compared to the other parts of Japan, travellers and residents get to enjoy cherry blossoms (beginning end of March) for one month. The destination also grows delicious white peaches that are normally in season during July and August, including Muscat grapes from May until December. Besides fresh produce, Okayama Prefecture is well known as the destination that has low risk of natural disasters because it does not sit on any faultline. Okayama is also popular with the legend of Momotaro (Peach Boy) and kibidango (sweet dumplings), the local delicacy given to Momotaro by his mother before he set off to kill ogres that were thought to threaten humans. Though Japan’s cost of living is among the highest in the world, if travellers were to do their homework, and then properly plan and budget, he or she would still find travelling around the country feasible since price levels are not too dissimilar from other developed countries, especially when travellers go beyond large cities. Anyway, it is still wise for travellers to bring extra hard cash when exploring a Japanese destination. Taking group packages to explore Okayama by a reputable tour agency like Corporate Information Travel Sdn Bhd is also a good way for travellers to control travel expenditure, besides being assured that the meals provided by the package tours are halal or Muslim-friendly.

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Japanese characteristics that we all should emulate: Though this is Juhan’s second visit to Japan, he still finds the country fresh and inspiring just like the first time. The trips expose him to the quintessential Japanese character and culture. He finds the Japanese to be meticulous, disciplined, industrious, masters in proportions and aesthetics, tasteful, organised, orderly, neat, practical, obsessively clean, elegant, sharp, precise, efficient, clever in the use of limited space, possess excellent maintenance culture, seek to be in harmony with nature, and value pristineness and freshness. The typical Japanese value safety, security, and stability. They take pride in their work, especially those who are able to demonstrate their skills using hands, turning the work into something artisanal. The Japanese also possess admirable work ethics that ensure everything works and up to mark like an efficient clockwork with the least downtime possible. It is also learned that the Japanese believe in their need to be personally useful and to serve others, making Japan one of the politest nations on earth with citizens who are eager to help and offer exceptional customer service. Of course, as human beings, the Japanese are not perfect, but they possess character that are largely exemplary, especially when it comes to decorum, self-control and dedication.

Getting your bearings Good to know: Prices of hotels might go up in Spring and Fall because Okayama is famous for its foliage and beautiful sceneries. The best time to visit Okayama is from April to mid-November.

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Our trip to Okayama brought us to three main areas: Okayama City, Maniwa City and Kibichuo town. Okayama City, being the capital of Okayama Prefecture, is located in the south-central area and has mild climate, ideal for cultivating the prefecture’s famous peaches. Kibichuo town (where travellers can find Japan’s first halal certified rice flour and bread factory called Aalam Japan Bakery) is largely rural yet just a short drive from Okayama City. Maniwa City, which is the largest conurbation in Okayama prefecture, lies in the north-central area that is popular for its hot springs and winter snow in Hiruzen Highlands.

What to experience 1. Okayama City Sante Healthy Café (locosute.jp/sante/) Travellers must eat at Sante Healthy Cafe, which serves French-inspired cuisine minus the wine. The chef does not use additives and preservatives in the dishes at all, and instead uses only natural ingredients, rendering the dishes innovative, healthy, and even halal. The café’s perfectly grilled sea bream with bouillabaise sauce is scrumptious and proves popular, while the pumpkin tart is not too sweet yet deeply satiating and full of goodness, just like its delectable desserts, patisseries and the rest of its menu.


The cafe is wholly owned by a company called Daiya Industry (www. daiyak.co.jp/en/), which started off 50 years ago producing materials made from rush such as tatami mats. These days, the company has now progressed into producing health-related products such as orthotic support systems (like braces, splints and guards) branded as bonbone, and has even set up its headquarters that also houses a health and fitness centre, retail outlet, and Sante Healthy Cafe. Daiya Industry even has its own research and development facility to ensure that it continues to come up with patented products that remain effective and useful. Seto Inland Sea When in Okayama, travellers should catch the beautiful view of the Seto Inland Sea and Seto Ohashi Bridge, especially during sunset from the Wishuzan Hill lookout point. Seto Inland Sea is the body of water separating the three out of the four main islands of Japan: Honshū, Shikoku, and Kyūshū. Kawahara Residence This house – built in 1839 – is one of the best remaining architectural examples from the late Edo period. As travellers make their way into the house, they will be welcomed by elements that are typical of a traditional and elegant Japanese abode such as a courtyard trees and plants, wooden pillars and beams, tiled roof that is combined with thatch, living room with tatami flooring that gives off the homely smell of rush, shoji (sliding screens that act as doors and windows covered in translucent paper), engawa (veranda), ishiusu (quern) and kamado (hearth). Visiting the house transports travellers back to the time when the Tokugawa Shogunate was at its twilight. Okayama Castle (okayama-kanko.net/ujo/english/) Okayama Castle is one landmark that travellers should visit when being in

Okayama. Also called Crow Castle due to the castle tower’s black lacquered facade, the castle has a pentagonal base instead of the usual square. The original castle was built by Lord Ukita Hideie and completed in 1597 – the current one standing is the replica completed in 1966 because the original was bombed by the Allied Forces in 1945 (during World War II). Inside the castle, travellers are able to learn more about the history of the lords who resided in the castle throughout the ages via informative displays and artefacts, including the chance to dress up like a feudal lord, samurai or princess for picture-taking. Korakuen Garden (www.okayama-korakuen.jp/english/) It is highly recommended that after exploring Okayama Castle, travellers should make their way to the adjacent internationally acclaimed garden. Traditionally, there are two kinds of Japanese gardens: one is for meditation (Zen), while the other is for strolling and samurai training. The Kaiyu-styled (which means “scenic promenade”) Korakuen Garden in Okayama - which is one of the top three gardens in Japan - is the latter, completed in 1700 by the order of feudal lord Ikeda Tsunamasa. Later, the ownership of the garden was transferred to Okayama Prefecture and the public began accessing it from 1884 until this day. Definitely one of the most beautiful gardens that travellers would have ever seen, the Korakuen Garden is indeed a joy to walk around during any season, offering different kinds of scenery. It is also learned that the government does not allow any skyscraper being built close to the garden because that would damage its setting. No wonder the Michelin guide rates the garden three stars. Kibitsuhiko Shrine Kibitsuhiko Shrine - built to worship Kibitsuhikonomikoto, the guardian spirit or deity of the Kibi people - has its own architectural style that can be

identified from its elegant hip-andgable roof. It is said that Kibi culture has its roots at the shrine’s festivals since ancient times when worshippers made mochi (rice cakes) as offering to the deity by pounding steamed rice into smooth dough according to the melody of shamisen (three-stringed musical instrument) and the rhythm of the Japanese drum, giving birth to the tradition called shamisen mochitsuki (‘making mochi to the tune of shamisen’) that can be witnessed during the first three days of January as part of the New Year celebration. Once travellers are done admiring Kibitsuhiko Shrine’s roof and grand hall where prayers are conducted (measuring over 330 square metres, the second largest after Yasaka Shrine in Kyoto), they could then follow the handsome 400-metre wooden sheltered walkway built without nails towards a smaller space called Narukama Shinji to observe how a Shinto priest and assistant perform a fortune-telling ritual that reads people’s fortunes based on the sound emitted by a heated rice pot – the stronger and longer the sound, the better the luck of those who consult it. Kurashiki Bikan Historical Quarter (www.kurashiki-tabi.jp/for/en/bikan.html) Travellers who love heritage, architecture and historical neighbourhoods could easily fall in love with Kurashiki Bikan, an area with a canal running through it that has been historically inhabited by well-to-do merchants who built their own shops and homes since the Edo period (early 1600s) up until today. The area is preserved by the government due to its rich history, photogenic charm and quaint atmosphere. Walking around this neighbourhood allows travellers to encounter and photograph the lovingly preserved shops and homes, picturesque greenery and perspectives, including wildlife like swans and herons that congregate along the canal.

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Perfectly grilled sea bream with bouillabaise sauce at Sante Healthy Cafe by Daiya Industry Beautiful sunset over the Seto Inland Sea and Seto Ohashi Bridge from Wishuzan Hill lookout point Foreign traveller pounding the steamed rice that eventually turned into smooth dough to make mochi at Kibitsuhiko Shrine The scenic canal at Kurashiki Bikan Historical Quarter


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Heading out into the rain from Kawahara Residence by passing through the quaint courtyard Making blueberry jam at Kayo Kogen Roadside Station Market in Kibichuo town The buffet dishes come with labels for the benefit of Muslim diners at Kibi Kogen Resort Hotel A living giant salamander that can grow over 1.5 metres long at Hanzaki Centre in Maniwa City Pathway leading towards the entrance of Okayama Castle


On the side Ashimori Melon Agricultural Tour (not available in normal packaged tours and need to be specially arranged)

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Besides peaches, Okayama is also suitable for cultivating rock melons. In Japan, rock melon is treated as fruit. However, unlike the peaches and Muscat grapes grown in the prefecture that bear fruits only once a year, rock melons can be harvested up to three times per year. In Okayama, rock melons produced in a district called Ashimori are considered special due to their sweetness, juiciness and aroma. These rock melons are cultivated within glass greenhouses that are between 600 to 650 metres long, with temperature kept at 20° Celsius because moisture is crucial to produce high quality rock melons. To ensure that each rock melon is of superior quality, whenever the rock melon plant’s fertilised female flowers start to bloom, the growers will select the best one and then prune off the rest. The sole remaining flower will eventually grow into a fullfledged fruit in three months. All necessary nutrients are eventually diverted to that sole fruit, making it healthy, luscious and sweet. Once the rock melons ripen, they are plucked and kept away for one week before being sold. These rock melons are so popular that each costs JPY2,500 (around MYR97) if sold at the farm and JPY5,000 (MYR195) once they reach the stores. Travellers should not miss savouring this succulent fruit because it is not yet exported elsewhere and only available in Okayama, just like the prefecture’s famous white peaches.

2. Kibichuo Town The journey from Okayama City to Kibichuo Town is blessed with scenic views since the bus that we were on brought us through Okayama’s mountainous landscapes. One of the activities that travellers can opt for in Kibichuo Town is guided horse-riding at the Okayama Joba Horse Club (okayama-jobaclub. com/top.html), which takes riders and their horses around the paddock on the hillside that is open to Kibichuo’s undulating scenic landscape. The horse club keeps 15 trained horses, which travellers can help feed at the end of the ride and connect with these sentient creatures. It is scientifically proven that horse-riding offers good mental and physical exercise to the rider by reducing stress, anxiety and anger. Close to the horse club is the Kibino-Mori Botanical Garden (kibinomori.com/), a venue where travellers can also appreciate the glory of Kibuchuo’s rolling terrain covered by lovely foliage, and even slide down the slope on toboggans. This place has vantage view during sunset that can be enjoyed over barbecue dinner, which requires prior booking and arrangement. Since Kibichuo Town is popular with blueberries, travellers are recommended to learn how to make blueberry jam (and even savour blueberry ice cream) at Kayo Kogen Roadside Station Market. To make a bottle of jam, travellers need 400 grams of blueberries and 50 grams of sugar. The blueberry jam and sugar need to be cooked for 30 to 45 minutes until the blueberries melt and become viscous, then scoop into a jar and close with lid. Immerse the entire jam-filled jar into hot water for 10 minutes to kill the bacteria. Thereafter, if the jar remains unopened, the jam can last for one year. If opened, it needs to be consumed as soon as possible since no preservatives are added.

When deciding to have lunch in Kibichuo, travellers should head to the Kibi Kogen Resort Hotel, one of the most established properties noted for its satisfying food and beverage offerings. For the benefit of fellow Muslim travellers, the hotel’s restaurant thoughtfully and clearly labels all of the dishes served in the buffet spread to indicate whether they contain alcohol or pork to ensure Muslim diners’ peace of mind.

Good to know Besides horse-riding, hiking, admiring nature and making blueberry jam, travellers who visit to Kibichuo Town are also recommended to visit one of Japan’s 12 original castles still standing in Japan called Bitchu Matsuyama Castle in Takashi City, built in 1240 at 430 metres above sea level. When travellers come in the early morning during autumn or winter, the castle seems to be floating above a sea of clouds.

3. Maniwa City Hanzaki Centre (Giant Salamander Protection Centre) Giant salamander (cryptobranchoidea), which can grow over 1.5 metres long, generally are amphibians that are endangered due to the loss of habitat and pollution. They are found in the rivers of Japan, parts of China and North America. This creature is considered ancient because the oldest salamander fossil found was dated 30 million years ago. Also called hanzaki, which means ‘cut in two’, salamander is able to regrow and regenerate its organs and limbs if they were amputated. Maniwa City celebrates Hanzaki Festival every year on 8 August to commemorate and appease the spirit of the legendary 11-metre giant salamander that was killed over 100 years ago because it threatened the lives of the villagers.


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Yubara Hot Spring (www.yubara.com/en/) Bathing at Japanese onsen (hot spring) and staying at a ryokan are must-dos for all travellers! Experiencing an authentic onsen in Japan can be liberating and therapeutic, especially when dipping into the hot water outdoors when the temperature is below 10° Celsius. Hot spring water is known to contain minerals that are good for the skin and general health. Yubara hot spring in Maniwa City is the place for travellers to take a refreshing and rejuvenating dip. For a more enriching immersion into Japanese hot spring lifestyle, travellers should consider staying at Hakkei Ryokan, or Hakkei traditional inn (www.hakkei-yubara.jp/en/) in Yubara that has full-fledged indoor and outdoor onsen facilities, including the restaurant Hanaguruma that serves excellent keiseki (traditional multi-course Japanese dinner) and hearty breakfast. Alternatively, bolder travellers can strip down and enjoy onsen publicly at Sunayu (outdoor bathing spot) that is open 24 hours, located just across the river on the bank opposing Hakkei Ryokan. Himawarikan Sobano-yakata Learn to make soba from scratch by learning how to make and knead the buckwheat dough, which is then flattened, folded then meticulously cut into slivers of soba noodles at Shimoyubara Onsen Himawarikan Sobano-yakata, which is famous for producing Maniwa soba noodle. Hiruzen Kogen Stop for lunch at Hiruzen Kogen (which means Hiruzen Highlands) Hiruzen Highlands for delicious sizzling hot plate lunch and shop for dairy products since Hiruzen is famous for its Jersey cows. Be sure to buy the delicious Hiruzen Jersey Yogurt, so good that it is almost sinful. Hiruzen is also popular as winter destination since the place receives thick snow compared to anywhere else in Okayama.

Gaya Travel Magazine expresses our heartfelt gratitude to Corporate Information Travel Sdn. Bhd. and Okayama Prefecture for making our trip to Okayama a reality. Browse www.cit.travel and e-mail to muslim@cit.travel or call +6 03 2091 9948 or +6 017 607 7188 for information on halal travel packages to Okayama and bookings. Check out this story’s online version at www.gayatravel.com.my/ friendly-okayama

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A relaxing dip in the outdoor onsen at Hakkei Ryokan in Yubara An Ashimori rock melon grower serving his luscious produce to guests

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The stunning Gyokusen’inmaru Garden was reconstructed just in time for the launch of the Hokuriku Shinkansen service Entrance to the Gold Leaf House at Yunokuni No Mori, which offers hands-on experience in the making of gold leaf embellishments


Destinations

Discovering the Hokuriku Region using Shinkansen TEXT|IMAGES by ED JUNAIDI

Many of us are familiar with Japan’s famous high-speed bullet trains called shinkansen. Operated by Japan Railway Company – called JR for short – the shinkansen network consists of multiple lines, amongst which the oldest and most popular is the Tokaido Shinkansen that connects Tokyo, Nagoya, Kyoto and Osaka, reducing rail travel time from eight hours to only three. The Hokuriku Shinkansen line was popularly known as Nagano Shinkansen because it connected Tokyo to Nagano in 1997 for Nagano Winter Olympics. Over a year ago, the service is extended to Kanazawa, which is part of the Hokuriku region. Hokuriku Shinkansen connects passengers between Tokyo and Kanazawa for only two hours and a half. Standard Fares on the Shinkansen for Common Journeys from Tokyo: 105

Standard class (unreserved)

Standard class (unreserved)

Green Car

Gran Car

Tokyo

Nagano

¥7,680 (MYR 299.90)

¥8,200 (MYR 320.22)

¥10,770 (MYR 420.50)

¥15,910 (MYR 621.20)

Tokyo

Toyama

¥12,210 (MYR 476.80)

¥12,730 (MYR 497.10)

¥17,360 (MYR 677.78)

¥25,580 (MYR 998.75)

Tokyo

Kanazawa

¥13,600 (MYR 531.10)

¥14,120 (MYR 551.28)

¥18,750 (MYR 732.10)

¥26,970 (MYR 1,050.78) Source: Nippon.com Prices in MYR as of 1 December 2016.

The new extension into the Hokuriku region allows travellers to access more destinations, especially within the Ishikawa and Fukui prefectures. By purchasing the 7-Day, 14-Day or 21-Day Japan Rail Pass, travellers can enjoy unlimited rides on all JR trains, including the shinkansen, allowing them to really optimise their visit to the Hokuriku region. There are other regional passes too such as the Hokuriku Arch Pass, which is an unlimited-ride pass for affordable trips to Tokyo/Osaka and Hokuriku areas. A 7-Day Pass can be purchased from outside Japan for ¥24,000 (MYR 934.15).

Experiencing the Hokuriku Region The Hokuriku region comprises Ishikawa, Fukui, Toyama and Niigata Prefectures. The following is the three-day itinerary covering parts of the region using shinkansen, which readers can use for ideas on what to see and do. when being there. Gaya Travel Magazine’s trip to Hokuriku was made possible by Hokuriku Shin-Etsu District Transport Bureau, together with Nippon Travel Agency Toyama and Relation Japan Inc.


Day 1 The Shinkansen Ride to Kanazawa As we arrived at Narita International Airport near Tokyo, we went directly to Tokyo Station to board the Hokuriku Shinkansen. Two hours and a half later, we arrived at Kanazawa Station. We had lunch at Omi-cho Market (ohmicho-ichiba.com/). The menu was kaisen-don, a rice bowl with various sashimi (raw seafood) on top. Kaisen-don is famous in Kanazawa, and the best place to get it is definitely at Omi-cho Market, the largest fresh food market in Kanazawa that began since the Edo Period, 280 years ago. This market opens from 9:00 a.m. until 6:00 p.m. Though open throughout the day, the market is more hectic in the morning and afternoon. Since the day was still early, we walked around Higashi Chaya District, one of the three Chaya districts that are still alive in Kanazawa. We were lucky to spot several geisha girls walking under street lights as the day slowly turned to dusk.

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Kanazawa, the Capital City of Ishikawa Prefecture In the morning, we were taken on a trip to learn the history of Kanagawa and why it is still called Kaga Hyakuman Goku, etymologically originated from the era when the Maeda clan was in power over Kaga (known today as Kanazawa). Kaga means “a million koku of rice”, symbolising Kaga’s wealth, whilst koku was a traditional unit used to measure the production of rice. This phrase is still used to refer to Kanazawa until today. Then we were brought to the world famous Kenroku-en Garden (www.pref.ishikawa.jp/siro-niwa/kenrokuen/e/index. html), one of the “Three Great Gardens of Japan”. We then walked across the street to Kanazawa Castle Park (www. pref.ishikawa.jp/siro-niwa/kanazawajou/e/index.html) where most parts of the original castle have been restored. We were told that Gyokusen’inmaru Garden next to Kanazawa Castle was reconstructed just in time for the launch of the Hokuriku Shinkansen, which should be visited by all travellers. About 10 minutes’ walk to the southern gate of the castle park, we visited 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art (www.kanazawa21.jp/en/), where exhibitions of renowned contemporary artists from Japan and all over the world are being held. Amongst the most prominent artworks being exhibited is the clever Swimming Pool by Leandro Erlich. Before leaving Kanazawa, we visited Nagamachi Samurai House District where many samurai houses are still preserved, either by corporate organisations or the descendants of the samurais and wealthy merchants. One of the samurai houses that is open to the public is the Nomura Samurai House (www. nomurake.com/), which contains archives and artefacts from the samurai era. Before leaving, we recommend that visitors stop at Taro’s Yokan for a cup of Japanese tea to enjoy Japanese traditional sweets made of red bean paste, jelly and sugar called yokan. We then travelled an hour to the south to Yunokuni No

Mori (www.yunokuni.jp/mori/en/), a traditional handicraft village in Komatsu. This is a theme park for tourists to experience Kaga traditional cultural amenities of Hokuriku like ceramicware, silk, lacquerware, paper-making and gold leaf. Afterwards we had keiseki lunch before taking a tour around this vast cultural village. At Gold Leaf House, we learned the delicate procedure on how to make gold leaf decorations on the cover of a hand mirror. Japan takes pride in its gold-leaf handicraft, which has elaborate history since the days of early Christianity throughout many cultures and civilisations. However, it is significantly special in Ishikawa because Kanazawa boasts 99% of gold leaf domestic production in Japan. Yunokuni No Mori offers more for tourists to learn deeper about Kaga culture and participate in hands-on activities such as Kutani Ceramicware, Kaga Yuzen printed silk, tea ceremony, Wajima Lacquerware, Washi Japanese Paper and more. Travellers are recommended to spend half a day here. On our way to Tōjinbō, we visited the famous Korogi Bridge, also known as Cricket Bridge. This area consists of three bridges: Korogi Bridge, Kurotani Bridge, and the unique S-curved shape Ayatori Bridge. This scenic area is beautiful throughout the four seasons. Later that evening, we travelled for an hour heading south-west to Tōjinbō in Fukui Prefecture to catch the sunset. Unfortunately, we were 10 minutes late. We were told that Tōjinbō is one of the most amazing spots to watch the sunset in Japan. Although we missed it, we were still able to witness the colourful evening sky over Japan Sea at dusk. We stayed the night at Mikuni Kanko Hotel in an area called Awara Onsen (awara.info/language-english), famous for its variety of ryokans and Yunomachi Hiroba, where we get to see a filming of a Japanese movie being done. That night we experienced Japanese onsen culture, which was relaxing and rejuvenating.

Day 3 Fukui Prefecture In the morning, the autumn air was fresh and breezy. We walked through the historical port city of Mikuni Minato-machi. This port has been in existence for 1,700 years along the Kuzuryu River. Mikuni is still an important port for Japan Sea trading. Many merchant stores and samurai mansions still exist, including several shrines. Every year, between May 19-May 21, Mikuni Festival is held where big warrior dolls as tall as six metres are paraded on floats along the street heading towards Mikuni Shrine, accompanied by ohayashi (traditional Japanese festival music comprising flutes and drums). Other than the old shops and houses, we recommend a visit to Kitamae-dori to taste delightful gourmet and a stay at Tsumesyo Mikuni Inn, a converted traditional machiya townhouse in a project led by Alex Kerr, a researcher of eastern culture, especially Japanese culture.


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03. Though Kanazawa Castle is reconstructed, traditional construction methods are employed to conserve local architectural heritage 04. The art installation ‘Swimming Pool’ by Leandro Erlich is the main attraction at the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art 05. The uniquely curvedAyatori Bridge made from reinforced steel merges well with the gorgeous natural backdrop 06. Traditionally hand-painted lanterns are among the gems that travellers can find along the old streets of Mikuni


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We left Mikuni and headed to Maruoka Castle (www. maruoka-kanko.org/), 40 minutes away by bus. Like every other castle in Japan, Maruoka Castle has gone through several lords since 1576 until it was completely destroyed by earthquake in 1948. It was reconstructed in 1955 and is part of the Important Cultural Properties of Japan because it has the oldest donjon (fortified tower). For lunch, we feted on the popular Takeda deep-fried tofu at Taniguchiya (www.taniguchiya.co.jp/), located along the winding road climbing up Mount Hakusan near Sakai City. Taniguchiya takes pride in its tofu because they are made from selected soybeans, oil and salts. That was the first time ever we have ever tried Takeda deep-fried tofu. It has the texture of a croissant but square-shaped, moist and salty but tastes creamy in the mouth. It is best served hot on the plate together with miso soup, deep-fried potato balls and either cold soba or brown rice. When visiting Fukui and Sakai City, travellers should ask around how to reach this restaurant. Before leaving Fukui Prefecture, we made two more stops. First, we visited Fujino Foods Co to learn how to make fish-based miso and grilled fish sticks. Second, we stopped by at the biggest fish market along the coast of the Sea of Japan, Sakana Machi Seafood Market (www.sakanamachi.info/ global/publics/index/10/) in Tsuruga City. The vendors in this market sell all kinds of seafood from white fish meats and big shrimps to fresh octopus and giant crabs. Travellers can eat fresh sea food at any of the food stalls and restaurants located inside the market. The Japanese consider this market as one of the cheapest places for seafood in the country. With our bellies full of fabulous Japanese food, we took a train at Tsuruga Station that took us along the Hokuriku Line through Osaka and Kyoto towards Kansai. We stayed a night at Kansai Airport Washington Hotel (kansai-ap. washington-hotels.jp/) before departing back to Kuala Lumpur in the morning.

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It was indeed an amazing experience exploring Hokuriku regions, especially the part least explored by foreigners. Malaysians rarely talk about this region and we feel that many would love to experience it using the iconic shinkansen. We hope that Japan Railways could further extend its shinkansen services throughout the Hokuriku regions all the way from Kanazawa to Osaka and Kyoto while passing by Fukui and Toyama along the way. 08

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The keep of Maruoka Castle is the oldest in Japan and listed as one of the top spots to view cherry blossom Fresh and delicious grilled fish at Sakana Machi Seafood Market

Gaya Travel Magazine expresses our heartfelt gratitude to Hokuriku Shin-Etsu District Transport Bureau, together with Nippon Travel Agency Toyama and Relation Japan Inc. for making our trip to Hokuriku a reality. Browse www.jreast.co.jp/E/routemaps/hokurikushinkansen.html for more info on the Hokuriku region using shinkansen.


Gaya Special Feature: Dusit Thani Bangkok

Built in 1970, Dusit Thani Bangkok was the first iconic landmark of Bangkok. It has remained a prominent feature of Bangkok’s skyline ever since and recognised as one of the symbols of the city’s progress into becoming one of the world’s greatest metropolises. As a leading hotel in Thailand for 48 years, Dusit Thani Bangkok is the flagship property of the renowned hospitality group called Dusit International, which is internationally recognised for over 65 years since the founder Thanpuying Chanut Piyaoui opened the hotel group’s first property, The Princess, in 1949. Ideally located in the heart of the city, Dusit Thani Bangkok sits at the opposite of Lumpini Park. The hotel is also adjacent to the skytrain (Bangkok Mass Transit System or BTS) and subway (Metropolitan Rapid Transit or MRT) that allow easy access to major business, shopping and entertainment centres. Dusit Thani’s 517 rooms and suites are all sumptuously appointed with distinctive Thai inspiration and well thought out amenities expressed using Thai silk and teakwood. The 60-metre square Dusit Room comes with separate bedroom, living area and larger bathroom, while the Thai Heritage Suites are inspired from the characters and touches of ancient Thai cities. Complementing the excellent accommodation is the choice of seven signature dining outlets: all-day dining The Pavilion that serves Thai and international menu, including halal options; 22 Kitchen & Bar that offers panoramic rooftop view besides Pacific Seafood cuisine; Benjarong that serves Contemporary Thai cuisine; The Mayflower that serves Cantonese cuisine and considered among the best Chinese restaurants in Bangkok; Hamilton’s Steak House that serves premium cut meats; and Thien Duong that serves up authentic

Vietnamese menu and Shogun, Japanese Restaurant, offers an original culinary experience. Besides dining, guests are also able to experience the hotel’s other facilities such as the Devarana Spa with its potent rituals dispensed at 14 treatments rooms for guests to rejuvenate and recharge; including the spacious and state-of-the-art DFiT Fitness Studio for guests to maintain health and fitness. But Gaya Travel Magazine’s favourite spot in the hotel – besides the elegantly classic rooms – is the hotel’s internal open air green courtyard with the cascading man-made waterfall at the centre. Lounging at the courtyard while taking in the sound of falling water and sipping refreshing beverage is remarkably relaxing, especially after a whole day of exploring the city or attending business meetings. Without doubt, Dusit Thani Bangkok is the hotel that truly immerses guests with genuine Thai hospitality and flair bolstered by modern and upscale conveniences that make guests’ travelling and staying experience more enriching and uplifting. What’s more, its unrivalled and strategic location simply makes it among the best properties ever to stay when guests put up in Bangkok. This year, Dusit Thani Bangkok celebrates its 48th anniversary by launching a series of special discounts on its dining and accommodation offerings throughout 2017. Please visit www.dusit.com/48anniversary for more info.

946 Rama IV Road, Bangkok 10500, THAILAND | +66 (0) 2200 9000 | +66 (0) 2236 6400 www.dusit.com/dtbk

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Destinations

Checking Up on Chiba – Part II of II TEXT|IMAGES by ADELA ROSLAN|IMAGES by ADVENTURE JAPAN & ADELA ROSLAN

We continue with Adela’s expedition around Chiba, which are bound to delight travellers with the prefecture’s sweet potatoes, cosmos flowers and stunning views. Refer Gaya Travel Magazine Issue 11.6/12.1 for Part 1 of the story.

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Japanese sweet potatoes help to keep wrinkles away

Remembering The Cosmos Flowers

When travellers walk towards Share’s Kitchen in Narita City that sells sweet potatoes, they are bound to be welcomed by the titillating aroma that wafts in the air, making travellers salivate! It is not difficult to see why this cafe is popular: it has cute little snack bar, interesting antique oven, warm sweet potatoes, affordable prices and a charmingly hospitable owner. Sweet potatoes are nutritious and healthy because it is rich in fibre and vitamins. Share’s Kitchen uses the sweet potatoes namely beniazuma (the normal yellowish in colour) and silksweet (the purple ones) are already sweet on their own without having to add any sugar. The potatoes need the whole summer to grow in the deep soil and then harvested. For better tasting potatoes, they need to be roasted only for one hour before being eaten. The smoky smell that clearly comes from being cooked in the special oven indicates they are ready; the skin peels off nicely, and the potatoes become moist and a tad mushy. These sweet potatoes are huge and their lingering aroma when roasted is enough to lure the passers-by to stop and buy them. The sweet potato is best to be eaten when they are piping hot. Travellers can also try out the various dishes, including decadent ice cream made from beniazuma and silksweet potatoes at Share’s Kitchen, which is sure to delight gourmands and foodies.

Often tourists come to Japan seeking sakura. Little that they know that Japan also boasts other types of beautiful flowers, one of them is cosmos, which can be found in Katori, Chiba prefecture. We believe that some of the most beautiful plants in the world are here. Along the way to the cosmos farm, I enjoyed the view of the undulating terrain, bathed in bright sunshine that seems to wake the flowers up. Though the day was sunny, it was made pleasant by soothing breezes. The environment at the farm is calm and peaceful. It is hard to believe that just across the water is a busy city. Travellers could see two completely different worlds located side by side. Bikes are absolutely the best way to explore the area. The best time to visit Cosmos Farm is from the beginning of September until mid-October, where travellers would be able to see not just pink and white cosmos, but also yellow cosmos mixed with orange, grandly carpeting the entire area, turning it into a must-see spectacle. Though travellers may pluck cosmos as mementos, it is best to just pat them gently and encourage them to bloom all year round – I was told that the flowers can listen to humans...

Location: Share’s Kitchen, 750-1Hanasaki-cho, Sawada Bldg. B1, Narita 286-0033, Chiba

Location: Cosmos Farm, Katori, Narita, Chiba


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Lip-smacking sweet potato chips at Share’s Kitchen in Narita City The signboard leading to Share’s Kitchen, which also sells sweet potato ice cream Taking photos of cosmos flowers from the Cosmos Farm


Daytrip to stunning views and rewarding hike Mount Nokogiri Ropeway, Awa-Gun, was my first mountain in Japan. Before visiting Mount Nokogiri Ropeway, travellers should firstly pack their own lunch and water since the vending machines charge a premium at this location; and secondly, be prepared to climb many paved and well maintained steps. The only ‘bushwalk’ pathway is from the Ropeway Station at the top of the mountain to the entrance of Nihonji Temple. The ascent can be quite strenuous since some of the steps are steep; however, travellers with moderate fitness will do just fine. It is recommended that travellers should wear suitable clothing and shoes because it can get sweaty when there is no wind. It takes around 30 minutes each way up and down. There are picnic tables, restrooms, vending machines and open green spaces, including one with the large Buddha carved on a side of Mount Nokogiri that offers a wonderful photo opportunity and nice stop for a meal. Many locals bring along their own bento sets and enjoy their lunch here. From the top of Mount Nokogiri, travellers are rewarded with stunning views of the water and the valley below, including stone carvings on the sides of the mountain. Though I was drenched with sweat, the hike was well worth it. Entrance fee: JPY600 Location: Mount Nokogiri, Chiba Prefecture, Futtsu, Chiba

Thank you Adventure Japan for turning my adventures in Chiba into reality – Chiba, I’ll be back! For more info on Chiba, visit https://japan-chiba-guide.com/ and http://www.pref.chiba.lg.jp/english/tourist-guide.html 112

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04. Views atop Mount Nokogiri


Destinations

10 Ways to Enjoy London and Beyond with

Girlfriends

TEXT|IMAGES by SHAHIDA SAKERI

Fly with Cam Arcelor Mittal

MAS den Market WARWICK BICE CASTLE STER PrĂŞt-Ă VIL Portea LAGE y Harr Orbit

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PortTOeUrR The

FA R M SHOP

LON DON

EYE CARNABY Street

Solo travel is good for you, but travelling with friends is just downright more fun and uplifting because wherever you may head to, you know there will be someone there too to experience everything with you. One ideal destination for such purpose is London, a city unlike any other in the world that thrives on multi-cultural flair, plethora of attractions and rich history, making it a definite crowd-pleaser, especially among ladies. Below are my top suggestions to make London (and beyond) the perfect getaway to bond, relax and try new things. Are you ready, girls?


IMAGE 01 by MALAYSIA AIRLINES

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No. 1: Fly Comfortably with Malaysia Airlines’s A380 www.malaysiaairlines.com/my

Save time and start your trip right by flying with Malaysia Airlines A380, the double-decker aircraft that connects you directly from Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA) to Heathrow Terminal 4. Each aircraft comes with 494 seats, operated by 21 cabin crew and 4 pilots, claimed to be the quietest aircraft as it generates 50% less noise during takeoff. There are also five prayer areas on board, for the convenience of religious passengers. If you want to truly spoil yourself, book First Class or Business Class. I had the privilege of flying on the Business Class for this trip, and it did make a significant difference to my travel experience. First, all premium passengers have access to premier lanes for faster security checks and immigration clearance especially at the busy Heathrow Airport. Then, they can access to the well-appointed Golden Lounge – both in KLIA and Heathrow – where they can sample an extensive buffet of Malaysian and Western dishes, catch on work at the Business Centre or even refresh by taking shower. I suggest that premium travellers stop by at the Laksa Bar when being in the Golden Lounge at KLIA, which features four popular home-grown laksa dishes – Curry Laksa, Penang Assam Laksa, Laksa Johor and Laksa Sarawak. When it comes to cabin configurations, the aircraft sports

1-2-1 formation in First Class; 2-2-2 in Business Class, 2-42 in Economy on the upper deck and 3-4-3 for Economy on the lower deck. The Business Class cabin has a total of 11 rows, affording ample leg-room and allow seats to be reclined into fully flat beds that are 183 centimetres long (72 inches). Each seat is equipped with a 17-inch entertainment screen with an impressive selection of movies, TV shows, songs, games and e-books, and the remote for it is located at the side of the seat, which is also where passengers can intuitively find the seat controls. Other features include personal items stowage, socket for 115VAC PED power supply and a USB port. I had an aisle seat that day; though it did feel comfortable and spacious, I couldn’t help feeling envious of my seat-mate, who was sitting by the window and had extra stowage bins underneath. Being a girl with many travel items, I imagined how those extra spaces would have easily enhanced my personal living space considerably. On each seat was a small pillow, a blanket and a light duvet. As the departure time approached, the captain made his welcome aboard announcement while flight attendants came around distributing pre-departure beverages. Shortly thereafter we pushed back and the screen displayed a “journey prayer” in Arabic, Malay and English. A stylish amenity kit by Porsche Design are then distributed, together with menu cards and headphones. Since I already ordered my meals through the convenient Chef-on-Call Service (exclusive for premium passengers) prior to flying, my focus went straight to the screen without having to contemplate on the menu. I ended up being impressed by both the quality of food and service delivered by the flight attendants in both my flights to and fro London. The crew were definitely warm, attentive, serving meals at a skilful pace and demonstrated a high level of professionalism throughout the journey.

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A glimpse into the Malaysia Airlines’ A380 Business Class cabin 02. A range of in-flight meals served for premium passengers

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No. 2: Be Brave and Go Down the World’s Tallest and Longest Tunnel Slide arcelormittalorbit.com/whats-on/the-slide/

It’s new. It’s affordable. And it’s definitely thrilling! Named as the Time Out London’s Number 1 thing to do in 2016, The Slide of ArcelorMittal Orbit offers a hair-rising experience for visitors of Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park by descending the 178-metre slide around UK’s tallest sculpture! The whole trip down the slide takes about 35 seconds, circling around the structure 12 times while passing through light and dark sections with London’s skyscrapers whizzing by (not that you’ll notice, really) before it ends with a dramatic 50-metre drop straight to earth! Of course, there are other ways of going down to the ground floor like taking the lifts or the 455 stairs with different London soundtracks on every floor, but what could be more enthralling? The general entry and The Slide combo is sold at £15 per adult, and £10 per child. ArcelorMittal Orbit was built to commemorate the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games, designed by the distinguished sculptor Sir Anish Kapoor and engineer Cecil Balmond. This 114.5-metre tall sculpture has two observation platforms, where visitors can spot iconic London landmarks like the Shard, the Gherkin, Big Ben and Wembley Stadium on a clear day.

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Tip: To reach the complex, take the Underground to the Stratford Station which is fifteen minutes’ walk from the ArcelorMittal Orbit.

No. 3: Splurge at Bicester Village

www.bicestervillage.com/en/home With over 130 boutiques of British and international brands, it is easy to see how this village makes it into every fashionista’s ‘must-visit’ list when being in the UK - this shopping paradise is the place where travellers can make a designer purchase without the designer price tag. Even Kate Middleton once disclosed that one of her favourite places to shop is indeed this village. If you admire her style, then shop for some of her favourite brands like L.K. Bennet and Tips: » Take the train on Chiltern Railways from Marylebone Station to the village for shorter travel time. » Visit in June for summer staples and in October for coats. » Shops with barriers outside are likely to have queues building up later in the day, so do come early and hit those shops first before it gets busier, then go to the smaller shops later.

Reiss here at deep discounts! And while you’re at it, consider trying the hands-free shopping service that will surely take the strain away as you continue to roam around this openair, pedestrian-only landscape. Other available services and facilities include tax refund and current exchange facility, an award-winning Tourist Information Centre, multi-lingual staff and Personal Shopping.

No. 4: Find Gems at Carnaby Street www.carnaby.co.uk

“Everywhere the Carnabetian Army marches on, each one a dedicated follower of fashion” – The Kinks, 1966. Need more fresh pieces to liven up your wardrobe? Head straight to Carnaby Street! Considered as a fashion mecca, Carnaby Street is a destination in its own right, brimming with cool pop-up stores, quirky boutiques, impeccable vintage shops and a long list of independent brands. During the swinging 1960s, famous music icons like The Beatles and Mick Jagger were spotted here frequently for a great retail therapy. Browse the ever-changing selection of rare findings, then grab a bite at Kingley Court and stay to watch the incredibly eccentric London crowd. We especially love the ‘We Built the City’ shop, which sells a collection of artwork and products from over 250 home-grown talented artists.

No.5: Hang Out with the Creative Crowd at Camden Market www.camdenmarket.com

Do you know that Camden has been the home to many illustrious stars like pop culture royalty (Amy Winehouse, Pink Floyd, Oasis) and celebrated writers (Charles Dickens, Virginia Woolf, Karl Marx) in the past? Today, The Daily Express had named Camden “London’s trendiest Sunday hangout” where many of Britain’s top designers were said to have started out with stalls here. The market has approximately 280 stalls and 54 shops, specialising in handmade, one-of-a-kind gifts and souvenirs. This was, in fact, the place where I bought my most cherished souvenirs, which were jewellery pieces made from old microchips. On top of that, Camden Market makes a perfect stop to have Sunday brunch as it boasts a long list of specialty food stalls that make you go hungry.

No.6: Have a Designer Afternoon Tea at The Berkeley Hotel www.the-berkeley.co.uk

Ahhh afternoon tea, the quintessential English tradition. No trip to London should be without it, and one of the best places to have a stylish one is at none other The Berkeley hotel. Head Pastry Chef, Mourad Khiat, celebrates top fashion moments from an array of distinguished designers through impressive high tea presentations that represent iconic fashion pieces that change every six months according to seasons at the gorgeous Collins Room using exquisite biscuits, bakes and fancies served on exclusive Wedgwood Prêt-à-Portea fine bone china.


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The ArcelorMittal Orbit, Britain’s tallest sculpture and the icon of the 2012 Games A Customer Service Representative at Bicester Village, ready to assist shoppers for a seamless shopping experience ‘Love’ signs on Carnaby Street in London in conjunction with Christmas celebration Delicious homemade baked goods sold at Camden Market A romantic afternoon tea at the gorgeous Collins Room, The Berkeley Hotel


Some of the key creations include Burberry’s classic trench coat in the form of chocolate biscuit with creamy royal icing, Jason Wu’s romantic cherry bavarois and coconut cream topped with a playful pink skirt and biscuit heel, and my absolute favourite, Manolo Blahnik Hangisi pointy toe stiletto pump ginger biscuit. The loose leaf teas list is equally impressive, boasting a total of 20 various flavours such as Ceylon and Rose, Monkey Picked Iron Buddha, Dragonwell Green and Vintage Cooked Puerh. A session here costs £52 per person.

No.7: Indulge in Organic Meals at The farmshop www.farmshopbicester.com

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When you’ve been shopping hard all day at Bicester Village, what you need to do next is to relax and eat something delicious and healthy. Get into the lofty, airy, muted wooden space of The farmshop, and be spoilt with their tempting list of rustic British fare! My personal recommendation is the garlic bread with melted cheddar cheese and sourdough that is oh SO good!

No.8: Wander at Warwick Castle www.warwick-castle.com

If you love all things medieval, soak up the romance and history of a castle life of more than 1,000 years at Warwick Castle, originally built in 914 A.D. as a Saxon fortification under the order of Ethelfleda, daughter of Alfred the Great, to defend against the invading Danes. The fort was later developed by William the Conqueror in 1068 A.D., two years after the Norman conquest of England. Today, the castle is protected as a Scheduled Ancient Monument and Grade 1 listed building, with a huge collection of armoury second only to that of the Tower of London. There are plenty of things you can do here, but if I may suggest, do not miss learning about the chronicles of the castle at the Time Tower via an interactive

audio visual multimedia presentation. I heard the Horrible Histories Maze is exciting too, but I had to forgo it due to time constraint. Fans of the BBC One ‘Merlin’ series should also explore the Dragon Tower where they can participate in Merlin’s quest to help Arthur Pendragon.

No.9: Join the Wizarding World at Warner Bros Studio www.wbstudiotour.co.uk

Growing up with the Harry Potter series, I must admit that I did secretly wish for my Hogwarts letter on my birthdays, hoping that one day I could be sorted into one of the houses (Hufflepuff, preferably), get my own wand, taste that delicious-looking Butterbeer and of course learn all the magic tricks! But now that I’m too old, I let it go until an invitation came in: to participate in a similar magical journey to Warner Bros studio, where the actual film sets of all eight Harry Potter films are open to the public – oh boy, my dream came true after all! Located in Leavesden, Warner Bros Studio was originally an old aircraft factory turned into one of the largest state-of-the-art filmmaking facilities in Europe, receiving over 6,000 visitors every single day. Here, visitors are treated with an experience similar to what they would have seen in the movies: by stepping into the carefully-made sets like the Great Hall, Dumbledore’s office and the wand room, admiring the carefully-crafted props, flying on a broomstick and discovering all the behind-the-scenes secrets. I must say, visitors will be amazed at the ludicrous amount of detail that went into making all elements as realistic as possible – some were even largely gone unnoticed in the films! My favourite set is definitely the magical Diagon Alley, which is the shopping street with more than 20,000 different items and packages appeared on the shops’ shelves. And if you’re a ‘Fantastic Beast and Where to Find Them’ fan, keep

your eyes on the Headmaster’s office wall, where you’ll find a portrait of none other than Newt Scamander. The tickets for the tour are priced at £39 per adult and £31 per child. Tips: » All tickets to Warner Bros Studio Tour London must be pre-booked, as there are no ticket sales counters on site. » Do not forget to book the handheld Digital Guides - they come in handy when exploring the sets. » To reach the studio, take the tube to London Euston, then embark the train to Watford Junction, where the shuttle bus awaits to ferry you to the studio.

No.10: Enjoy the Spectacular Bird’s Eye View of the City from London Eye www.londoneye.com

Do you know that both Jessica Alba and Kate Moss have been on the London Eye 31 times and 25 times respectively? Who can blame them; the Coca-Cola London Eye has been London’s number one visitor experience for over a decade. It is a masterpiece of urban architecture, standing proud at 135 metres tall. A complete rotation takes 30 minutes, and on a clear day, you will be treated to a 360° visual feast of iconic and historical landmarks up to 40 kilometres in all directions. The London Eye is the main point of the famous London’s New Year’s Eve firework show. Tip: Get the London pass online, which gives travellers access to most of London’s top tourist destinations at a fraction of the original price.


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Scrumptious garlic bread with melted cheddar cheese and sourdough, including soup at The Farmshop A representation of Nursery Room in Warwick Castle The mannequins of Professor McGonagall, Albus Dumbledore and Severus Snape at the Warner Bros Studio One of London Eye’s 32 ovoidal passenger capsules, overlooking the River Thames and the Palace of Westminster, which is the seat of United Kingdom parliament

Special thanks to Malaysia Airlines and Visit Britain for making our trip to England an unforgettably lovely experience. If you’re planning to explore England and London, be sure to refer to the Tourist Bureau (www.visitlondon.com) for free guides and coupon books to be used during your trip.


Hotels & Resorts

Golden Sands Resort by Shangri-La: An Ideal Family Destination TEXT by MOHD SHAHRIL FAWZY SUHAILI|IMAGES by GOLDEN SANDS RESORT BY SHANGRI-LA, PENANG

Travellers all come in various forms: solo, couple or family. Each has its own positive side and challenges. Travelling families, for instance, requires suitable accommodation, consequently giving parents headache since they need to consider may aspects such as safe environment, sufficient space, efficient facilities and suitable activities so that each family member can enjoy their holiday. Recently, Gaya Travel stayed at Golden Sands Resort by Shangri-La, Penang, which is conveniently located along the prime beachfront Batu Ferringhi area, only 20 minutes’ drive from Georgetown and 45 minutes from Penang International Airport. This four-star resort offers an extensive range of facilities and services that cater to the needs of guests, especially those travelling with family. From our observation, Golden Sands Resort by Shangri-La, Penang is definitely a family destination in its own right. 124

Well-appointed Rooms The resort boasts 387 comfortably furnished guestrooms and suites, each with stunning views of the verdant hills or the azure sea. The in-room facilities include LCD televisions with cable channels, tea/coffee making machine, complimentary Internet access throughout the property, DVD player, safety deposit box, refrigerator, full range of Shangri-La amenities and universal electronic ports. Several rooms are equipped with Murphy Beds (pull-down, retractable wall beds) that can accommodate a third person. I was given a Deluxe Sea Facing room, furnished in a modern and contemporary style that exudes a relaxed resort vibe. The key point of this room is the enchanting view of the sea with the perfectly manicured garden that can be seen right from the balcony. I utterly relished the room since I could read my favourite book while listening to the soothing sounds of waves crashing and slumber on soft bed and comfy pillows.

Myriad Dining Options This resort has a wide array of dining selections. Guests of Golden Sands Resort by Shangri-La, Penang can enjoy scrumptious cuisine within a calm tropical setting. Situated next to the resort lobby, Garden Café features three cooking arenas and offers a variety of freshly prepared and made-to-order menus. Guests can also enjoy international and authentic local buffet spreads. Sigi’s Bar & Grill, on the other hand, is a stylish, casual and fun outlet that has one of the best dining views in Penang. Equipped with an open barbecue grill kitchen, this outlet serves a selection of prime steaks, grilled seafood, pasta dishes and even Asian comestibles. It is the best venue for small gatherings with great company with delightful food and stunning beach view. For light refreshments, guests may simply head to the Lobby Lounge to enjoy casual snacks.


gymnasium, tennis courts, Par 3 Pitch and Putt Golf Course and cooking classes.

Out & About Should guests desire to explore more of Penang, there are many attractions located near to the resort such as Batu Ferringhi night market to see and buy local offerings, Penang Batik Factory for guests to try their hands on batik painting and Yahong Art Gallery to witness iconic artworks by Malaysian and Asian artists. For guests who are into nature, Penang Butterfly Farm provides an opportunity to see varied collection of butterfly species. Tropical Spice Garden, located around 3 kilometres away from the resort, is another spot to dive into nature’s grandeur to discover a variety of spices available around the garden. Golden Sands Resort by Shangri-La, Penang Batu Ferringhi Beach, Penang 11100, Malaysia GPS: 5.476854, 100.251659 www.shangri-la.com/penang/goldensandsresort/

Recreational Facilities and Activities Golden Sands Resort by Shangri-La, Penang provides one of the most comprehensive recreational facilities in Penang that meet the demands of guests of all ages. Since the pool becomes the main attraction that makes the resort more child-friendly, the resort features not just one but three outdoor pools that guests of all ages can enjoy. I had the opportunity to experience the resort’s newly-launched attraction called The Splash Zone that features whimsical sculptures, water slides with a landing pool, tipping water bucket and cones, water cannons and more. To double up the fun, adults are also welcome to try the enjoyable water slide for a splashing fun time. For a taste of adventure, children can head to the largest dry indoor playground in Penang called The Adventure Zone to try the popular heart-pumping drop slides available in three levels: “Hyperglide Astra Drop”, “Double Drop” and “Demon Drop”. For more fun and interactive activities, parents can drop their children at Cool Zone Kids’ Club for art and craft, t-shirt painting, sand sculpture and more before heading towards the spa for their much needed ‘me-time‘. Other facilities and activities include water sport centre,


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Hotels & Resorts

Magnifique Stay at Sofitel Luang Prabang TEXT by JUHAN KAMARUDDIN|IMAGES by SOFITEL LUANG PRABANG

Highly exclusive and private, Sofitel Luang Prabang is one of Accor Hotel’s oldest hotels within the Sofitel collection, being over a century old and characterised by high fortified walls and watchtowers because the property was originally intended as the Governor’s Residence during the period when Laos was a French protectorate in early 1900s. It is one of the best examples of French colonial Indochinese architecture, providing an excellent study on symmetry, balance and proportion. Classy and internationally acclaimed, the property is intended for those who prefer to be surrounded by magnificence. Located in a peaceful residential area called Ban Mano, guests could easily hear roosters crowing from the surrounding houses, quickly reminding them that they are somewhere bucolic, though Luang Prabang town centre is only a five-minute ride and the international airport is a mere 20 minutes’ drive away. These days, the hotel still makes guests feel like staying in a low-slung luxurious minifort made current by well manicured gardens; amethyst mosaic-tiled swimming pool; highly recommended spa that dispenses efficacious local organic products via rejuvenating treatments; 24-hour fitness centre; the handsome-looking all-day dining outlet called Governor’s Grill with its evocative tented al fresco seating serving delectable fusion of traditional Lao cuisine and cutting edge western gastronomy; and the cosy lounge and bar called the Library that serves the much-anticipated post-prandial beverages. Smart, stoic and solid, the property’s colonial architecture is made subtle by sleek, contemporary Indochinese sophistication. Sofitel Luang Prabang evokes French Indochine chic by optimising the architecture’s colonial Eu-

ropean tropical vernacular and practicality as its foundation, and then embellished using Laotian accents to give it a unique identity and strong sense of place. Throughout the entire property, time-honoured local crafts such as handwoven textiles, delicate pottery and Indochinese antiques grace the obliging walls and niches. The property enjoys such a look and feel because it received the touch by the celebrated Thai architect Duangrit Bunnag, who is an expert in melding eastern and western elements in design and architecture. Without doubt, the hotel epitomises Sofitel’s desire in making statements. The Sofitel brand allows guests the chance to live it up in a sumptuous fashion. If Sofitel Luang Prabang were a person, it would be likened to a suave, well travelled, seasoned and wise French gentleman who remains youthful and abreast with the times. He might also be romantic, especially at night when the hotel’s atmosphere is bathed in soft illumination and becomes intimate. The property’s staff members also embody Sofitel’s finesse that can be detected from their professional, deferential, attentive and accommodating disposition. The standards of service demonstrated by the staff elevate guests’ experience similar to staying in a palace.

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There are only 25 spacious clay-roofed suites within Sofitel Luang Prabang. These suites range from 46 square metres up to the agoraphobia-inducing 120 square metres, making it arguably the largest guestroom dimensions in Luang Prabang, alongside nostalgic shutter windows and soaring five-metre high ceiling. Each of these suites also has its own private garden and patio that make the space feels even larger, allowing guests to unwind in further seclusion. Wi-Fi connectivity, state-of-the-art amenities and unobtrusive turndown service are also provided to meet the demands of the well heeled and the discerning. To me, the heart of the suite is indeed the luxuriously inviting and magnificent four-column hand-carved poster bed with super comfortable perfectly-supporting mattress and pillows, which I find difficult to peel myself from in the morning, testifying to Sofitel’s signature pampering and indulgence. No stay at Sofitel Luang Prabang is complete without savouring the menu at Governor’s Grill, especially buffalo meat, which is the specialty of Luang Prabang. Gastronomes and culinary aficionados should opt for the ‘Buffalo Tasting Menu’, an exquisite array of buffalo meat prepared in different styles. Buffalo meat is generally flavourful with strong beefy taste and chewy, tasting zestier when dipped in tamarind sauce. Among the types of buffalo dishes offered on the menu are the thinly sliced buffalo carpaccio, which has 128


the texture of salmon but gamey; local buffalo meat salad called laap; and the satiating French-inspired bourguignon (stew). It is strongly recommended that guests end their meal at Governor’s Grill perfectly with Sofitel’s gratifying coconut ice cream. To further live out the privileged French colonial lifestyle, guests should also take the opportunity to be chauffeur-driven in the hotel’s cream-coloured 1956 Mercedes-Benz or dark crimson 1952 Citroen when heading out towards Luang Prabang’s city centre to take in the heritage town’s timeless wistful charm, as well as dropping by Sofitel Luang Prabang’s sister property called 3 Nagas, located right in the centre, which also offers titillating home-made ice cream. In conclusion, Sofitel Luang Prabang boldly carries the hallmark of Sofitel, which I interpret as ‘magnificent design meets excellent service’. The fact that the property was originally constructed by the French and rich in history makes it contextually appropriate for Sofitel (a well-established and reputable French hospitality brand) to manage it with flair. If one needs to be confined in a fortified structure, it might as well be at Sofitel Luang Prabang, which is an excellent fusion of colonial French splendour and Far East exoticism, cocooning guests in exclusive serenity. Browse www.Sofitel-LuangPrabang.com.

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Follow these 3 simple steps to Win an Exclusive 3 Days/2 Nights Vacation! 1. Answer all questions correctly. 2. Don’t forget to complete your personal details such as name, passport/identification number, address and phone number. 3. Send it to contest@gayatravel.com.my

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EXCL USIVELY for buyers or subscribers of the

P R I N T E D M A G A Z I N E CO P Y Sofitel Luang Prabang, Laos

www.Sofitel-LuangPrabang.com 1. 2. 3. 4.

How many suites does Sofitel Luang Prabang have? What is the name of the chef that heads the culinary team at the hotel’s restaurant, Governor’s Grill? What is the name of the garden that features the hotel’s Le SPA? I love to stay at Sofitel Luang Prabang because... TERMS & CONDITIONS | The reader can only e-mail the answers regarding the hotel of choice in the quiz within the particular issue only once. Competition is open to all readers who are 18 years old and above. The prize is not transferable and can not be exchanged with cash. Judges’ decision is final. The best entrant with the best answer will be deemed winner. Closing date of the competition is 31 May 2017.


Travel Anecdotes

Hannah On Earth IMAGE by HADHINAH FAWWAZAH NASARUDDIN

My name is Hadhinah Fawwazah Nasaruddin (married name: Hadhinah Felice) and I am 29 years old. I was born and raised in Sandakan, Sabah. I volunteer a few times a week at an animal shelter. I also manage my own social media accounts and blog about my travel experiences daily. I have yet to work professionally in the USA and I plan to do so some time in the future. Last year, I finished my two-year long journey across all 50 states of America. It was such an amazing once-in-a-lifetime experience. The journey has changed not only my mind about the USA but my readers’ minds too. My husband and I are planning to visit the continent of Africa this year and it will be the fifth continent that we’ll set foot in.

Hannah On Earth on Travels . My favourite destination(s): 1. Istanbul, Turkey 2. Prague, Czechia (Czech Republic) 3. Bangkok, Thailand 4. Big Island, Hawaii, The USA 5. Tokyo, Japan 6. Iceland

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. My dream destination(s):

1. Lençóis Maranheses National Park, Brazil 2. Addis Ababa, Ethiopia 3. Madagascar 4. South Georgia and the South Sandwich Island, a British territory off the South Argentina coast

. My must-have(s) in the carry-on:

1. Wireless headphone 2. Colgate Wisp disposable mini-toothbrush with toothpaste bead 3. Medications (prescribed, painkillers and antacids) 4. Earplugs 5. Antibacterial wipes 6. A pen so you can fill up immigration form without borrowing one from others! . My worst nightmare during travel: Cancelled flights and missing connections!

. My favourite Malaysian spot(s):

. . . . . .

1. Kinabalu National Park, Sabah 2. Pulau Tioman, Pahang 3. Melaka 4. Pulau Pinang 5. Kuala Tahan National Park, Pahang My best meal taken in Malaysia: Nasi kuning with sambal ikan in Sandakan, Sabah! Malaysia is special because…It’s a food haven! Solo or group travel? Solo Aisle or window seat? Aisle See it all or take it easy? Take it easy I travel for… Enature exploration and wildlife spotting!

Hannah in 30seconds Funny, discerning, socially-awkward, an ambivert, an animal lover, a conversationalist, candid, resourceful, adventurous, knowledgeable, easily annoyed. . Night owl or early-riser? Night owl

. Back to nature or city slicker? Back to nature

. One book everyone should read The Second Book of General Ignorance

. What is the last thing you Googled? Snow gaiter for women

. What’s on your playlist right now? The soundtrack of HBO’s Silicon Valley

. What is the moment you’re most proud? When I graduated with my master’s degree

. What’s your biggest pet peeve? People who are always interrupting

. Whose brain would you like to have had? Franklin D. Roosevelt

. Life is too short to...

...count to a trillion


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Profile for Chandi Media Group

GTN 12.2  

is issue was originally intended to focus on destinations within the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) region. However, as tim...

GTN 12.2  

is issue was originally intended to focus on destinations within the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) region. However, as tim...